Financial challenges prompt difficult decision
Fowler thanks community for its support
By Terry Duffy
The It Happened to Alexa Foundation announced this week it would discontinue its wide-ranging support services to victims of sexual violence effective immediately. The sudden announcement was conveyed in an email sent Oct. 14 by Kate Fowler, executive director, on behalf of the It Happen to Alexa board of directors.
Founded in the late 1990s by Lewiston residents Tom and Stacy Branchini following a viscous sexual attack on their daughter, Alexa, who had been attending college in Boston, the foundation had as its purpose to serve as a multifaceted resource in support of victims of rape and sexual assault. It maintained a Lewiston office for several years before relocating to Buffalo.
“The mission of It Happened to Alexa is to empower survivors of rape and sexual assault and to facilitate the prosecution of their assailants through financial, emotional and advocacy assistance to the survivors and their supporters at time of trial,” the foundation stated.
Fowler attributed the decision to close to financial difficulties the not-for-profit foundation has been facing.
“Since the organization’s inception, financial challenges have affected our ability to operate and help survivors,” Fowler said. “The past few years have become increasingly challenging. As a result of these challenges, we are unable to keep the doors open.
“While this announcement is extremely disheartening, we reflect on that fact that we have helped so many survivors achieve justice and closure, while always feeling loved and supported.”
Recalling its founding, Fowler went on to speak of the positive impacts It Happened to Alexa has seen not only locally, but across North America and even worldwide.
“On that fateful night of Alexa’s assault 20 years ago, Alexa’s parents, Tom and Stacey, received that horrifying call that no parent ever dreams of. They knew their lives would be changed forever. But following that nightmare experience, they founded an organization and legacy that has helped over 800 people attend and testify at trial in over 43 states and 23 countries, with an 84% conviction rate.
“Allow that to sink in – over 800 – and countless more were helped through our education program, our comfort kit program, phone calls to our office, and additional resources and information from the organization to assist them with their healing. In so many ways, that is because of your support of the mission.”
From its founding, It Happened to Alexa received support, in Buffalo-Niagara, as well as in national circles. The foundation has been a benefactor of numerous fundraising initiatives held over the years, both locally, in the Boston and New York City areas, as well as in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Columnist/author Bill O’Reilly, formerly of FOX News, is one such backer to lend his support. O’Reilly, a frequent contributor at Alexa events outside the Buffalo area, made a guest appearance with political humorist Dennis Miller in Shea’s Buffalo in spring 2014 as part of his “Bolder and Fresher” national tour.
It Happened to Alexa also saw strong support from the River Region community. In late 2013, spurred by a number of area residents and business community organizers, the foundation announced the staging of its first-ever Great Contraption Race. The benefit event was held in 2014 on the waters of the lower Niagara River from Lewiston to Youngstown.
It Happened to Alexa and its race relocated last year, with new headquarters at the Larkin Exchange in Buffalo, and the Great Contraption Race moved to the Buffalo River. Logistical issues surrounding the race prompted a shelving of the event in 2019. In its place, It Happened to Alexa presented “Buffalo’s Biggest Basket Sale” at Buffalo Riverworks, which also saw strong support this past summer.
In making the announcement, Fowler said It Happened to Alexa officials are now moving ahead with plans to officially dissolve the 501 (c) (3) foundation with New York state. She declined to elaborate on any future plans for the foundation, saying a number of organizations, both local and nationally, avail similar type services.
“To our survivors, we say – stay strong,” Fowler said. “You are supported, you are loved, you are never alone. If at any time you need help, please reach out to those around you. We are happy you have been a part of our legacy, because you are kind, loving and amazing people. Never, ever forget that.
“To our supporters, we say – you are generous. Your generosity has helped so many people and has made such an impact on the lives of so many. If there is one thing we hope you take away from this, it is that you can, and have, made a difference. Please continue to do so. You are change-makers, you are the dreamers of dreams, and you have truly made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. Thank you for being you.”
Fowler said that, over the next several weeks, the foundation will close its day-to-day operations in Buffalo. She noted the Larkin office remains open and the phone line is still active at 716-754-9105.
Fowler also spoke on behalf of founders Tom and Stacy Branchini, conveying their “sincere appreciation” to the many Alexa supporters.
“Tom and Stacey are so grateful for the love and support the Lewiston community has shown them and It Happened to Alexa since the very beginning,” she said. “The community support is what helped us help so many survivors, and we are so appreciative of all the volunteer hours, basket donations, and monetary donations. We couldn't have done it without all of your support.
“Thank you, all of you, for being a part of this. We wish all of you the best and couldn’t be more grateful of your love and support.”
“I have enjoyed my time with the foundation; I truly cherish that,” Fowler said. “The supporters, the many volunteers, everyone has been great. It’s sad to see it go.”