Spirit of late student lives on through foundation

PV students carry the legacy of Zack Latteri on his 17th birthday

Rachel Powell, Staff Writer

Zack Latteri always promised that when he got better, he would come back and bring sheets to the kids at the hospital. He wanted to make sure they would not have to deal with the rough, ripped sheets he too often encountered.

Today, although Zack is no longer with us, the Zack Latteri Foundation is keeping his memory alive by doing what he would have loved to do himself. On many occasions since his passing, students at Pascack Valley have volunteered to contribute to causes that were close to Zack’s heart. Specifically, Zack’s friends, family, and other members of the community have come together to create baskets of sheets and other gifts to distribute to sick children at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

I wanted to spread the love that he would always spread when he was alive.”

— PV Junior Kyra Gynegrowski

“I wanted to spread the love that he would always spread when he was alive,” Kyra Gynegrowski, a junior at PV and a volunteer for the foundation, said.

Thursday marks what would have been Zack’s 17th birthday. Diagnosed with leukemia at age ten, Zack was all too familiar with the hospital setting, having been in and out of hospitals since the fourth grade. A beloved member of the Pascack Valley Class of 2018, Zack passed away in the summer of 2015. He would have been a sophomore in the months following his passing.

The Zack Latteri Foundation was created to reach out to local families who are going through hard times, offer them help, and let them know that people are thinking about them. Sharon Latteri, Zack’s mother, attributes the foundation’s goals to the help her own family received from both total strangers and people that they knew very well in the community.

“We really wanted to help local people a little bit when they’re going through a hard time like people helped us,” Sharon Latteri said.

The foundation is centered around people in the neighborhood helping one another. Unlike larger charities, in which it is not always clear where all of the donations are going, every cent of the Zack Latteri Foundation’s money goes towards local families and schools.

Since it was created, the foundation has made an impact on the community. In addition to creating baskets for the children at Sloan Kettering, the Zack Latteri Foundation has donated money to the River Vale Police Department for the purchase of drunk goggles to educate students about the dangers of drunk driving, purchased school supplies for a family whose mother had passed away from cancer, and given monetary donations and support to people in the community that could use some extra help.

It’s what he wanted for other people, because he was so loving and caring towards other people. He wanted people to try to feel better when they’re in that situation.”

— PV junior Megan Thorn

“It’s important to know that the foundation is for Zack,” junior Megan Thorn said. “It’s what he wanted for other people, because he was so loving and caring towards other people. He wanted people to try to feel better when they’re in that situation.”

A number of Pascack Valley students have volunteered with the foundation to participate in causes that Zack believed in. When Zack passed away after a five-year battle with leukemia, many of his friends felt strongly that his presence in their lives had affected them deeply and they wanted a way to carry on his name. The Zack Latteri Foundation gives them the ability to help people who are experiencing what Zack went through and give back to the community in a way that honors his desire to help others. For them, being part of the foundation is a way to honor Zack and never let his legacy fade.

The volunteers have expressed the impact visiting Sloan Kettering has had on their lives.

“I wanted a good way to remember Zack,” Junior Tiana Giovatto said, “and that was the perfect way to do it; to give back to all his favorite things and to kids that are going through the same thing that he was going through.”

“We take our lives for granted. We get to do things every day that we want to do and other people don’t have that opportunity,” Thorn added. “It’s eye-opening because their everyday little struggles are totally different from ours.”

In the future, the foundation hopes to grow, accomplish more, get more people involved, and continue to make an impact on the community.

“There are a lot of little things you can do, even if it’s just donating a toy, that would help make a difference,” Gynegrowski said. “It’s rewarding to know that you are giving back and doing something for Zack that he would have loved to have done himself.”

In addition to visiting Sloan Kettering, students at Pascack Valley have also participated in other fundraisers, such as the Zackyard Backyard Sale.

Sharon Latteri wants students at Pascack Valley and their families to know that anyone is invited to help, not just Zack’s close friends.

“I think people want to get involved, but they don’t know how. I know some people have said that they think it’s only for a certain group of kids, but no, anybody can get involved,” she said.

The next package day, in which volunteers will visit Sloan Kettering and bring the children gift baskets containing sheets and toys, will take place on Feb. 20, 2017.

For more information, contact Sharon Latteri, Tiana Giovatto, Kyra Gynegrowski, or Megan Thorn.