When Debbie Savigliano's 21-year-old niece Bianca Yodice was fatally struck by a car in Edison in 2010, Savigliano went on a journey "from grief to gratitude." That phrase not only formed the title of a book Savigliano has written about her experiences since then, but was also the impetus for a South Jersey foundation that honors Bianca's memory with its mission.

Bianca Yodice
Bianca Yodice (Photo courtesy of Debbie Savigliano)

"I one day decided that the energy I was using to feed that depression, that was going to get me nowhere, I would direct it to something more worthy," she said.

The idea for Bianca's Kids, which is now one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in the region, actually came to Savigliano almost immediately following her niece's death.

"When I was at my niece's funeral and wake, I actually heard something in my ear or someone say to me, 'You're going to start a nonprofit organization,'" she said. Savigliano, who to that point had no experience with such groups, is now the executive director of Bianca's Kids, which has received top honors each of the last two years from the website greatnonprofits.org.

When Bianca was killed, she was walking to a daycare center where she worked. She loved children and had a desire to further her education so she could continue helping kids, especially those with special needs. True to Bianca's spirit, her namesake organization has helped about 13,000 needy or struggling children over the last five-plus years, and not only in New Jersey; in 2015, the group partnered with kids in London and Australia, though its focus remains in the Garden State.

"Our primary target is foster children, because Bianca was passionate about helping kids that suffer separation anxiety," Savigliano said.

'Bianca's Kids' wish recipient
'Bianca's Kids' wish recipient (Photo courtesy of Debbie Savigliano)

Bianca's Kids has established relationships in all 21 New Jersey counties through the state Department of Children & Families, bringing hope to children by filling specific needs or granting certain wishes. Some of those wishes have included class trips, a day with the Philadelphia Eagles, or a Walt Disney World vacation.

For Savigliano, who said a documentary based on her book will premiere in June in Williamstown, that voice in her head has proved prophetic. It even told her that a mural Bianca had made with the kids she cared for would become the foundation's logo.

"It is my hope that I can help somebody, with my story, sort of find their way through grief and find that light at the end of the tunnel," Savigliano said.

To find out more about Bianca's Kids, go to biancaskids.org.

Patrick Lavery is a news producer, reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.