On Feb. 24, 2018 Francis Felicioni died from a drug overdose at the age of 26. To honor Felicioni and combat the stigma of addiction, his family created the Phightin’ Frankie Foundation in February 2019. Fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha and sorority Tri Sigma are hosting a proceeds night at Brickhouse Tavern on April 15 to benefit the organization and raise awareness on drug addiction and mental health.
When he was a junior at Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, Felicioni was in a car accident that resulted in the loss of his right knee cap, his quadriceps muscle and part of his femur bone. He went through five surgeries, and his doctors put him on various medications such as Dilaudid and OxyContin to cope with the pain. His brother Nicholas Felicioni, a 2016 JMU graduate and Pi Kappa Alpha alumnus, and his sister Brenna Felicioni, a current junior hospitality management major and member of Tri Sigma, were heavily impacted by the accident.
“Nick and I were very young,” Brenna Felicioni said. “My mom and dad had an extremely difficult time being that their first child was in such a traumatic accident. We worked through it as a family though and we had an amazing support system to help us get through everything.”
Once he was strong enough to be off the medications, Felicioni attended Penn State Brandywine from August 2008 to May 2011 and Delaware County Community College for a year after that. During this time he experienced serious withdrawals that caused severe vomiting, stomach cramping, chills, sweating, loss of appetite and full body aches. He then went to various rehabilitation centers and support groups in 2016 and 2017 before eventually overdosing on fentanyl.
In response to this tragedy, Felicioni’s family founded the PFF with the goal of raising funds that go toward scholarships for individuals in sober living, which are homes that operate as a bridge between an inpatient facility and the real world. After hearing what happened, junior kinesiology major and Pi Kappa Alpha president Matt Grillo felt inclined to help, and reached out to Nicholas and Brenna. They decided to organize a proceeds night at a local restaurant in honor of their brother.
“Based off of how my experiences have gone with mental health and addiction, they’re very worthy causes,” Grillo said. “We’ve really focused our attention as an organization on what we can do. It’s something that everybody should want to be a part of and everybody should try to be a part of.”
The proceeds night will take place from 6 p.m. to midnight, and a certain percentage of purchases will go toward the PFF’s scholarship fund. Pi Kappa Alpha and Tri Sigma have spread awareness by selling T-shirts, wristbands and through word of mouth outside of their organizations.
Junior Tri Sigma member and communications studies major Katelyn Eutsler is one of Felicioni’s friends who has felt the impact of her brother’s loss. Eutsler and junior Pi Kappa Alpha member and justice studies major Justin Woodrum are working to advertise for the event not only within their organizations, but to as many people as possible in the community.
“Something we’ve really tried to do is get the word out to our own brothers and have them tell their friends,” Woodrum said. “As a whole, it means a lot to me because of my relationship to Brenna and their connection to our organization, and just as friends in general. I think the best thing that I see from this is building that community and showing people that we are looking out for them.”
According to the American Addiction Centers, teenagers and people with mental health disorders are more prone to drug use and addiction than other populations. Drug addiction continues to carry a stigma that discourages those affected from being open about their struggles and from seeking treatment, as stated by Felicioni.
“Addiction is something that definitely needs to be stressed more, just because a lot of people look at it in a really negative way,” Brenna Felicioni said. “A lot of people don’t really have control of their addiction once it becomes part of their daily life, and I think we could just spread awareness more as a school.”
In addition to the goal of contributing money to the PFF, Pi Kappa Alpha and Tri Sigma are trying to spread awareness about addiction through the philanthropy event. The two organizations hope that by creating a community of support, the proceeds night will help break down the negative stigma behind addiction.
“Within Tri Sig, we have a super close sisterhood and when this affected Brenna last year it affected all of us,” Eutsler said. “We’ve been there for her through everything. Now I see how we can make a difference. It’s just really awesome to see Pike and Tri Sig come together and be able to make so much money for this organization.”
Contact Kamryn Koch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.