There are people in all of our lives who seem special. They go through life as if by magic and bring that magic with them wherever they go. Nick Fagnano was one of those people. Born to parents Mary and Jay Fagnano in LA, Nick is remembered by his friends and family as someone who brought other people together, who was kind, honest, and humble, who persevered when things got tough, and who was deeply spiritual. When Nick was 20, he went swimming with his friends on Venice beach and was killed by a lightning strike. Watch his powerful story here. If you are prompted to enter a password, please use the following: Joy



In the aftermath of Nick's death, Mary and Jay set out to honor his life by starting the Thrive In Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation, devoted to helping youth develop Nick's character traits and learn from his inspiring story. Working through the Multiplying Good Students In Action program, Mary and Jay sponsored the creation of three character-based sessions, presented at the Students In Action leadership conferences in LA in 2019 and 2020. The sessions were designed to educate youth in SIA about character, the traits they had, and those they wanted to grow through service.

The Thrive In Joy Nick Fagnano Foundation's core is C11—11 character traits that Nick displayed. Those traits are Gratitude, Honesty, Humility, Humor, Kindness, Love, Perseverance, Perspective, Spirituality, Teamwork, and Zest. While these traits may be easy to list, they can be challenging to teach or cultivate.

Research shows that service-learning is a prime vehicle to support an understanding and acquisition of character traits. According to a study from Louisiana State University, "Service-learning is an effective avenue for understanding virtue development. With the structure of the service-learning cycle, students built awareness of character development through identifying a need, designing the project, implementing the project, reflecting throughout the project, and evaluating the project. […] Within the realm of understanding, the service-learning project helped students become more conscious of the complexity of moral development (source)."



We saw the power of service to support the understanding of character traits and virtue development firsthand in the fall of 2019 when TJNFF and Multiplying Good first introduced youth in the LA branch of SIA to Nick's story as a way to grapple with this tough conversation of character. First, youth thought about a person whose presence had created ripples of good in their lives or the lives of their family. Then we introduced youth to Nick's story and asked them to reflect on what 'thrive in joy' meant to them. After initial reflections, the group worked together to define character traits and identify those traits that were their strongest, those they wanted to work on, and the one or two most important when serving the community. Finally, youth heard a letter Nick wrote to his future self, a letter his mother Mary found on his passing, before being asked to write one to themselves. In the letters, youth set intentions for the year ahead in relation to their character strengths and the changes they wanted to see in their communities.


The impact of the session on participating youth was significant:

  • 96% said they gained an understanding of character
  • 76% said they knew which character trait was their strongest
  • 92% said they knew which character traits they wanted to grow
  • 88% said they had an idea of the character traits they would grow through service with SIA that year


Youth shared the following:

  • "My favorite part was getting to hear Nick's story. I enjoyed this because it showed me that anyone can make a difference on this earth, regardless of how long they're with us."
  • "My favorite part of the fall conference was when we saw the video of Nick and when we wrote a letter to ourselves. It was my favorite because it was inspiring, and I had this urge to do good things for a change."
  • "My favorite part was Thrive in Joy. Seeing Nick's parents still working hard to maintain his legacy is really inspiring. I see them changing lives through his story, and it truly makes me want to as well."


Over the course of two additional conferences, or another year, Multiplying Good and Thrive In Joy continued to educate youth on the intersection of character and service, exploring how character traits can help us overcome challenges and barriers. Taking a page from Mary and Jay's life and work, these youth are committed to following in Nick's footsteps, inspired by the young man he was and the difference he made leveraging his character traits during his time here on earth.