Florida Times-Union | By Beth Reese Cravey | June 25, 2021
Because of a rare degenerative disease, Michael Alberico was in a wheelchair and nonverbal.
But he bonded with his young niece Gianna Capri, 7, just the same. When she practiced her Florida Cinderella Scholarship Pageant or cheerleading skills, he was frequently her audience.
“He would just kind of laugh — like, ‘Not again,'” said Jennifer Capri, his sister and Gianna’s mother. “Michael thought it was very humorous when I would tell her to practice something again and she wouldn’t want too. He made sure she got in the extra practice. Gianna was always bouncing around him … and Michael was always very kind toward her.”
Within a few months of Alberico’s April 13 death at age 42, Gianna launched fundraisers in his memory for a planned therapeutic sensory room at the Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine’s Morning Star School in Jacksonville. Gianna’s brother Anthony, 12, attends the school, which serves children in kindergarten through 12th grade who have learning differences and mild intellectual disabilities.
The fundraisers — with the support of the Florida Cinderella pageant, where Gianna won the Tot division in 2019 and is now an ambassador — have already raised about $1,700. The current online fundraiser for the school runs through the end of the month.
“All of my kids would tell me Michael kept their secrets,” Capri said. “It is heartwarming to remember them talk about him, and my kids are better little people for having my brother … as part of their lives.”
Because of Alberico, Gianna and her brothers Anthony and Bobby “are more aware and sensitive to others’ needs,” she said. “Michael taught them even though one may be different in life they should always be kind. My family and I have taught them to always help those less fortunate and not take things in their lives for granted.
“Giving back to others, giving back to the community and living life to the fullest — my brother would want that for all of us,” Capri said.
The Capri family lived in Daytona Beach for 18 years but moved to Jacksonville for Anthony to attend Morning Star, where he is in his third year.
“We couldn’t find anything local,” Capri said.
Morning Star Principal Elaine Shott said transforming an existing classroom into the planned sensory room will cost about $7,000. With soft lighting, peaceful music and special tactile features, among other things, the room will provide a “safe space” for overstimulated or upset special-needs students to recover from “meltdowns,” she said.