When Theresa Clarke, and her daughter, Cayla, suffered the sudden and unimaginable loss of their beloved niece, and cousin, Alex Ciarcia, they were devastated. Remarkably, Theresa and Cayla channeled their grief into a tireless mission to honor Alex’s memory. And they never imagined the magnitude of far reaching support they would receive from the Wilton community. “This town is the best,” Theresa said.
Alexandra “Alex” Ciarcia was 21 years old and a senior at SUNY Geneseo when she passed away in September of 2017. A Dean’s List student majoring in Communications and English, Alex also served as the managing editor of the Lamron, Geneseo’s student newspaper, and as president of her sorority, Phi Lambda Chi.
“She was so beautiful and so smart. Astoundingly smart,” Theresa said of Alex. “She just flourished there at SUNY Geneseo.”
Alex was beloved on campus and off, as evidenced by the swift establishment of The Alexandra Ciarcia ’18 Memorial Endowed Scholarship in May 2018. The fundraising campaign was launched in the early spring of 2018 and raised the required minimum of $25K in less than three months. Since then, Alex’s fund has more than doubled, and its first scholarship was awarded to a SUNY Geneseo Communications major in fall of 2019.
“When the scholarship was started I wanted to help. So I got a box from the basement of the Wilton Library and during the Wilton High School lacrosse games in 2018 I went around the stands and asked people for money,” Cayla said. With additional help from Wilton High School’s athletic director, Chris McDougal, and Bob McDowell, CEO of the Wilton YMCA, Cayla and Theresa continued to hold mini-fundraisers in Wilton.
Eager to create a steady source of fundraising for the scholarship fund, they decided on collecting money from redeeming the deposit change from returning bottles and cans. Theresa got permission from the condominium board at the Village Walk, where they live, to collect recyclable cans and bottles at their apartment.
“The people in Wilton were so kind. They donated so many recyclables to our door,” Theresa said.
But not everyone approved, despite the pair’s good intentions. A disgruntled neighbor began to berate people dropping off donations. “At first we did it at our apartment, but this grouchy neighbor made us stop. She yelled at everyone.” Cayla explained.
Dismayed by her neighbor’s behavior, Theresa was determined to find another way to persevere.
“This is really helping my brother, [Alexandra’s dad]. This is helping education. So I am not going to stop.”
And once again, support from Wilton citizens sustained their work. After posting an appeal on Facebook, Theresa received a message from Jennifer Angerame, owner of the Wilton business Southern Yankee, who offered up the her storefront’s porch as a drop-off location for people’s can donations.
“Jennifer enabled us to continue. She is so kind,” Theresa said. For Angerame, who had been donating her recyclables to Alex’s scholarship fund already, it was a no brainer. “It’s no trouble at all. Theresa and Cayla are respectful, considerate and come every day to collect. The first day there were three garbage bags full of cans! I got a beautiful letter from the college. It’s a layup.”
The collaboration of their personal efforts and the community response is an inspirational example. Miglena Chapried, director of development at SUNY Geneseo, oversees the Alexandra Ciarcia ’18 Memorial Endowed Scholarship.
“Naming a scholarship or a program is a uniquely meaningful act. The naming stays in perpetuity. People understand the importance of honoring their loved ones but often they may hesitate to make the monetary commitment thinking it is beyond their means. I often use the example of Alex’s campaign to make people aware that raising the funds is within their reach–it takes time and persistence. It takes commitment, but if there is a will, there is a way to achieve their goal. Cayla’s dedication to the cause is not just fascinating, it is a real-life story of commitment and purpose and it is contagious to others.”
With profound appreciation, and humility, Theresa and Cayla continue their work. “We go every morning to Southern Yankee,” Cayla said, adding a message to Wilton residents: “Don’t stop donating. Please keep them coming,” Theresa added, “We are not fussy, give us what you have and we will sort it out. Every five cents matters.”
Charpied is deeply impressed with Cayla and Theresa’s dedication. “For them this is a lifelong commitment. Since I have known Cayla and Theresa, they never missed a month without sending a check. Their dedication to the cause is breathtaking.”
Readers interested in supporting Theresa and Cayla’s efforts for the Alexandra Ciarcia Memorial Scholarship Fund may donate recyclables at Southern Yankee (237 Danbury Rd.). Direct monetary donations can be made online. For any questions, please contact Miglena Charpied at via email.