The Late Latteri Changed Their World, Now Foundation ‘Pays It Forward’
Inspired by her son’s philanthropic spirit after his passing, River Vale resident Sharon Latteri and her friends banded together to help build a better community with the founding of the Zack Latteri Foundation.
Diagnosed at 10 years old, Zack Latteri battled leukemia for 5-and-a-half years and passed away July of 2015 at the age of 15. In his time fighting his own cancer, Zack dedicated his time to trying to live as “normal” a life as possible, said his mother, all while still working to make a difference, leading his grade in Relay for Life efforts and thinking of how best he could help others in his circumstance. With her son’s compassionate nature in mind, at his funeral, surrounded by love ones, Latteri and a close set of friends came up with the idea of the foundation. After working with a lawyer who donated their time to the cause and some paperwork, they were able to achieve 501(c)(3) charity status and have been doing everything they can to give back to those affected by cancer and to their community.
“I have a million great friends, but this group of friends just happened to be sitting next to me at Zack’s funeral, and we’re all good at something else,” Latteri said. “So my name is all I’m good at, but I have friends who are good with the money, so I have one friend who is in charge of the checking and how everything gets paid, and then I have another friend who’s good at taking notes so she’s our secretary, and I have a girlfriend who is a little more social, so she’s our MC. We have someone who is good at everything, and River Vale helped me so much.”
The foundation is made up of seven core members, as well as Latteri’s other two children and her brother. Volunteers also come from the local high school and the surrounding community, and they are thankful to all those who get involved.
Since its inception, the Zack Latteri Foundation’s mission has been to help local families battling cancer, as well as help local forces, like the police, fire department and the ambulance squad, and to help the school systems, according to Latteri. The foundation helped provide iPads to the ambulance squad and helped get drunk-driving goggles for the police squad to use in schools. Additionally, the foundation helps provide yearly scholarships to students. When looking at who to give back to and help, Latteri explains that it is not necessarily need-based, but that the goal is to help all who are going through something. On top of that though, they work to help honor things that Zack Latteri hoped to do.
“When Zack was sick, he used to bring his own sheets to the hospital. I had gotten him really cozy sheets from Target that were Jersey cotton because the sheets at the hospital were ripped and rough and the detergent was bad on his skin, so he said when he felt better, he wanted to bring sheets to kids in the hospital, so that’s what we do,” Latteri said. “We put a basket together with the basics and a set of sheets. They cost about $50 to make, and so far, we’ve had a bunch of donations. We put together a set of sheets and art supplies and lip gloss, nail polish, things like that. And the sheets are great. We go on sites that have animals or trains or anything cool, and we get kids involved. We call them Zack Packs, and we bring them to the hospital, and then the hospital distributes them. Every time we go, I tell them, ‘If it’s not working out, just let me know,’ and the people say they loved the sheets and everything, and it makes the kids happy. I’m trying to fulfill one of Zack’s things that he wanted to do.”
To further give back, the foundation holds a variety of events, including a beefsteak dinner, cooking demonstrations at local restaurants and an annual Zackyard Backyard Sale. The yard sale, which occurred on Oct. 27, 2018, is the foundation’s fourth annual event of its kind.
For the Zackyard Backyard Sale, people were able to buy a table for $40 to sell whatever they wanted. The $40 went to the foundation, but whatever profits people made at their table, they were able to keep. People were also able to donate items, and whatever was left was donated to the veterans. Local pizza places also offered pizza to sell to help the foundation further raise their sales. The Zackyard Backyard Sale also included a bakery section, with baked goods made by students in the high school and the high school’s cheer squad. Items left from that were then donated to local food pantries and nursing homes. Additionally, ambassadors from each grade in the high school also volunteered their time to help put on the event.
“I hope Zack is really proud of all his friends and us,” Latteri said. “We get the kids involved, and it’s such a community effort. We’re eclectic. Whatever there’s a way to make money, that’s what we do. The foundation is made up of housewives, and we have just smart people and people who want to help us. Every dime goes to our mission statements. It’s all volunteer. All the money we raise goes right back out. Cancer changes everything: your finances, your life, everything. Even people with tons of money still have to spend money they don’t want to. If it makes people happy even for a moment, that is important to us.”
Additionally, the Zack Latteri Foundation gives multiple scholarships each year, picked by the foundation members. As last May was what would have been Zack’s graduation, they also hoped to give more as a tribute.
Moving forward, Latteri is looking to keep growing the foundation and reach more people. She is not only focusing on making a difference but on building a community that fosters the same values that her son held so strongly to.
“I hope it grows by leaps and bounds,” Latteri said. “Zack brought people into my life that never would be in it otherwise. I’m surrounded by amazing people. When they say it takes a village, it really takes one. I’m really lucky to have such good friends that knew Zack and cared about him. A lot of the people in the foundation have kids Zack’s age, so not only are we friends but Zack and their kids were friends.”
Reflecting on the progress the Zack Latteri Foundation has made thus far, Latteri is proud of what they have accomplished and is grateful for the support she’s received from not even fellow board members and friends, but also from the town of River Vale and the high school. Inspired by Zack’s determination and courage in life, she is happy to see the difference the foundation has been able to make and the effort the people involved have put in as well.
“Anything we do makes me proud because it’s not just me doing it; it’s everyone,” Latteri said. “If one person were to do it all, it’d be impossible, but because everyone does something, it makes it so much easier. I couldn’t say one thing, but I feel good about everything we do. Anytime says Zack’s name or thinks about him, it makes me happy. He was my best friend. We spent so much time together. I want to do things that would make Zack proud; he deserved it.”
For more information on the Zack Latteri Foundation, visit their foundation page at https://www.facebook.com/zlf2852/.
By Tara DeLorenzo