The Office of Disabilities Services will present the first annual. Father William E. Atkinson, O.S.A., Humanitarian Award to John Tozzi, an orthopedic surgeon from Spring Lake, N.J., on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Connelly Cinema.
Tozzi began the Alexandra Rose Tozzi Memorial Foundation in memory of his daughter, Alexandra, following her tragic death in a car accident almost 10 years ago. The foundation raises awareness about organ donation and donates to a number of other charitable organizations.
The foundation has raised $2.5 million and has donated over $500,000 to charity. In March of this year, the foundation made a $10,000 donation to the University’s Office of Disability Services in honor of senior Frankie Kineavy.
Kineavy’s generosity toward the Tozzi family after Alexandra’s death inspired her father to make a donation to the University in Kineavy’s honor. Alexandra, whose nickname was Zan, played basketball and participated in an annual tournament that Kineavy hosts.
After Alexandra passed away, Kineavy donated three years of the proceeds, totaling about $30,000, from the Frankie Kineavy Invitational Basketball Tournament to Tozzi’s foundation.
“What better place to do it then where [Kineavy] attends school,” Tozzi said.
The donation from the Tozzi Foundation was a surprise to Greg Hannah, Disability Student Services adviser, and everyone in the office.
One day, Hannah opened the mail and saw the donation. The donation was “a very nice gesture, unexpected and a major boost for the office,” Hannah said.
Soon thereafter, Hannah and Steve McWilliams, director of International/Human Services, began discussing a way to honor Tozzi.With the spirit of Father Bill Atkinson in mind, McWilliams and Hannah created a humanitarian award whose goal is “to honor people who do great things in the face of adversity,” Hannah said.
“[Tozzi] is such a gentle, warm, compassionate person about life,” Hannah continued . “He just cares about people and that’s how Father Bill [Atkinson] was.”
Atkinson graduated from the University and was ordained in 1974. He went on to teach at Monsignor Bonner High School in Upper Darby, Pa. Atkinson, an Augustinian, became a quadriplegic at age 19 following a toboggan accident. He was the first quadriplegic ever to be ordained as a priest.
McWilliams visited and assisted Atkinson for many years. He knew Atkinson well and went on to write a book about his life, titled “Green Bananas: The Wisdom of Father Bill Atkinson.”
The award will be presented annually every fall semester following nominations for recipients. The executive committee for the award includes Hannah, McWilliams and Father Rob Hagan, O.S.A., associate athletic director. The committee will reach out to student groups for nominations and review them.
For his part, Tozzi is humbled to be this year’s recipient of the award.
“I am honored beyond belief to receive this award, but this is not something I’ve done on my own.” He credits his wife, his family and his community for contributing to the foundation’s efforts.
For 10 years now, in addition to its donation to the Office of Disability Services, the Alexandra Rose Tozzi Memorial Foundation has sponsored four girls from the Mercy Center Sister’s Academy in Asbury Park, N.J., to attend an 11-month per year school program. The students range from grades five through eight, and each receives $10,000 for her education.
“Zan would be very happy to know that, in her name, these young ladies are going on to a better life,” Tozzi said.
The foundation has also provided assistance for relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Thailand. Tozzi said that the foundation will also be aiding the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
“Zan, even at the age of 13, had a sense of those in need,” he said. Tozzi and his extended family collectively look into where the foundation can make an impact. Some of the charitable organizations contact the foundation for funds, and in some instances it is the Tozzi family who identifies and recognizes a group or organization in need.
“We can focus on the positive and create something good from a bad or tragic situation,” Tozzi said.
Tozzi will present a similar message to the University community when he receives the Fr. Atkinson award.
“I want [the students] to know that the best and only good way to handle tragedy is to change it into something positive,” he said.