By Dan Champagne
— Chris Carrozzella felt there was a natural connection between his son CJ and the Wallingford Public Library.
When his son died at the age of 17 on March 3, 2003 from injuries sustained in a car accident, people throughout town donated books to the library in his memory. They have since continued to donate through an annual golf tournament in his name, which will allow his family to make a $10,000 donation to the library’s expansion fund. “I felt like there was a connection with my son and the library being that he lived in Wallingford and this is really a nice community place,” said Carrozzella, a lawyer in town. “It just worked out very naturally for us.”
Carrozzella and his ex-wife Elisa Ferraro created The Spirit of CJ Foundation in 2003. The nonprofit organization’s mission is to “donate proceeds from benefit events to community and charitable organizations consistent with the philosophy and spirit of CJ.”
CJ Carrozzella was a junior at Xavier High School in Middlefield when he died. He was heavily involved in sports, performing arts and loved to break dance.
The family began holding a golf tournament in his honor in 2004, but did not hold one last year for personal reasons. They still received $2,000 in donations from the public.
Since the foundation’s inception in 2003, it has donated roughly $21,000 to Xavier High School for a performing arts scholarship, the Wallingford Little League, the Wallingford Family YMCA and Project Graduation. It made a $500 contribution this year to the Hospital of St. Raphael for playground equipment for the Children’s Psychiatric Emergency Services Unit.
Money from this year’s golf tournament, scheduled for May 18 at The Tradition Golf Club, will be donated to the library expansion fund, the Wallingford Emergency Shelter and the Xavier scholarship. “With him being 17, we wanted to donate to causes that would be consistent with what he would have wanted,” Carrozzella said. “He always wanted to help homeless people so that’s where the shelter came in. When we would go to New York City, he always wanted to try to help people on the street.”
The money donated to the library will sponsor the children’s room staff office. “It’s kind of bittersweet because we have children of our own and we remember when this accident happened,” said Karen Roesler, library co-director. “Although we didn’t know CJ personally, this contribution will allow him to make a difference to the children of the future at the library. What you have to think about with memorial contributions is that this is a contribution that that person would have made during their own lives.”
The library is more than a year into its $12 million, 31,000 square-foot expansion project, which is scheduled to be completed this fall.
The library expansion committee has agreed to raise at least $500,000 toward the project and had well over $400,000 in donations and pledges as of Tuesday, including a recent $10,000 donation from the Record-Journal Foundation.
“The community has been amazing so far and I think it’s because every age group can find something at the library,” said Leslie Scherer, library co-director.
“We really wanted to keep that kind of local connection for CJ,” Carrozzella said. “There are certainly a lot of worthy causes in this town to help us keep that connection and the library is certainly one of them.”