From left, Anthony Cremonese, Melissa Lichtinger, and Antoine Holman are part of the student team working on the #AJO Forever Foundation website.
By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend
Melissa Lichtinger, a senior majoring in international business and marketing, was working at the Make a Wish booth at a women’s expo in Erie this October when she met Alyssa O’Neill’s father, Jason, and knew she wanted to do whatever she could to help with the #AJO campaign.
AJO stands for Alyssa J. O’Neill, 18, who was a first-year student at Penn State Behrend when she died after suffering a grand mal seizure at home. The day before her death, O’Neill had texted her mother, saying they should meet at Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte. After her funeral, her parents, Jason and Sarah, bought ten of the drinks for strangers. The barista marked the cups—using purple, a color associated with epilepsy awareness—with #AJO.
That spurred a far broader pay-it-forward campaign. People paid for strangers’ meals, gas, groceries and layaway purchases. They sent #AJO photos from London, Iraq and the Canary Islands. It’s still going. The #AJO Forever in Our Hearts Facebook page has more than 41,000 “likes.”
“Jason said that he and his wife were overwhelmed just trying to keep up with the photos and correspondence pouring in through the AJO Facebook page,” Lichtinger said. “I wondered how, with my background in marketing, I could help them.”
She asked Dr. Kathleen Noce, senior lecturer in management information systems, if Partnership Erie, a nonprofit outreach extension of the Sam and Irene Black School of Business, could develop a new eCommerce website and social media strategy for the AJO Forever foundation.
Noce agreed and Lichtinger recruited four more students—Anthony Cremonese, Antoine Holman, Kelsie Noce, and Michael Thompson—to work on the project with her.
The new site is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
But Lichtinger didn’t think that was enough. “I really wanted to do something to raise money for the foundation,” she said.
So she talked to Rhonda Reynolds, a Housing and Food Services employee who helped create a very successful employee service committee, and together they came up with the idea to “paint the campus purple” on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Students, faculty, and staff are all invited to wear purple and take part in making the letters #AJO for a group photo on Dec. 10 at 4 p.m. in the Clark Café in the Jack Burke Research and Economic Development Center. Participants are asked to give at least $2 to the AJO Forever Fund to be a part of the photo.
Students will begin collecting donations at 3 p.m. The first 200 to donate will receive a free purple hat!
The event is sponsored by The Sam and Irene Black School of Business, Partnership Erie, Behrend Commission for Women, the School of Nursing, and Grimm’s Embroidery.
Hope to see you there!