Local Family and Friends Rally to Raise $32,000 for Carlotta Scholarship Fund


for boone county family, new fund is natural piece of their lifelong northern kentucky story

Florence, KY – Friends and family members of Sam and Tonya Carlotta, and their son Cameron, raised more than $32,000 in a matter of weeks to launch a new scholarship fund for students attending Cooper High School in Boone County. If enough donations are made, they hope to include scholarships to students at Boone County High School also, their alma mater.

The Carlotta Family and Friends Scholarship Fund was created to honor Sam Carlotta, a Northern Kentuckian who lives as an inspiration to those around him, even after sustaining a spinal injury in his teenage years that left him facing a multitude of challenges and procedures to try to gain back some of his mobility and independence.

Carlotta dove into a pool at his family’s apartment complex in 1981 and hit his head and neck on an inner tube, leaving him with Brown Sequard Syndrome (BSS), a rare neurological condition which results in weakness or paralysis (hemi paraplegia) on one side of the body and a loss of sensation on the opposite side.

Initially, doctors weren’t sure they could fix Carlotta’s paralysis. However, after a complex procedure to implant a halo in his skull and two cervical fusion surgeries at Good Samaritan Hospital and subsequent long-term occupational and physical therapy, rehabilitation, and additional procedures, Carlotta regained some mobility and function.

“Sam has always viewed the challenges resulting from his spinal injury as opportunities for progress and growth,” said longtime friend Keith Noel. “He has never once played the victim regardless of what obstacles were placed before him. He has just always displayed a ‘can do’ attitude and his trademark saying is ‘NBL’ which means Nothing But Love.”

Carlotta’s many friends have remained a big part of his life, with the group getting together every year for “SamFest” in December for a chance to catch up over old stories. His wife Tonya, too, has been by his side nearly his whole life, with the two originally meeting as students at Ockerman Junior High School in Florence, Tonya two years younger than Sam. The pair started dating in high school and have been married for many years, now living in Union with their son Cameron.

“I never imagined that I would one day marry the guy I went to my very first school dance with,” said Tonya Carlotta. “But here we are almost 45 years later! Life can change in the blink of an eye and through it all we’ve been blessed tremendously.

Carlotta’s friends decided to surprise him on June 12 of this year through a route that would seem somewhat normal to Sam- a SamFest, but in summer since they had to skip the party in December 2020 due to the pandemic. When he arrived to his home that evening from another family party, he was greeted by a large group of friends and family who had filled his driveway and nearby sidewalks. A group of his closest friends and family presented him with the “big check”, which totaled $32,300 to launch a new scholarship fund for Cooper High School students in Boone County.

“For those who know me, know that I am rarely at a loss for words,” said Sam Carlotta. “After the presentation, a few were yelling ‘Speech!’, but I could not formulate a thought because I felt so overwhelmed and humbled by the experience. I can’t thank my friends and family enough for this gesture but more importantly, the impact it can have on young adults moving on the next phase of their lives.”

Carlotta has been deeply involved with Cooper High School since Cameron started school there in 2008, the school’s first year open. With Cameron involved in baseball and football, Sam began to volunteer with the teams. He has remained committed for so long that the baseball team now presents a Sam Carlotta Inspiration Award each year, and Sam leads many of the team’s fundraising efforts.

As much as he loves the athletics, he says his real passion is for the kids, and watching them grow through the years. They talk to him about how school is going and what their future plans are, and Sam gets to meet their parents and other coaches in their lives.

The athletics team at Cooper also presented Carlotta with a reserved space on the school campus’ parking lot from which Carlotta can comfortably watch football games without needing to navigate through the crowds- he endearingly calls it his private suite.

The Carlotta family looks forward to seeing the scholarships support students in whatever they choose as their post-secondary education, whether through trade school, community college, or university or college coursework.

“Everyone wants to thank me but truly I owe them the thanks,” added Sam Carlotta. ”From the school administration to the coaches, parents, and student athletes, they have allowed me to stay involved in something I love. I try to explain to the players that they are making lifelong friends through sports. But it doesn’t have to be sports. I think all students should be involved in as many school activities as possible which includes sports, band, choir, academic teams, etc. They build relationships/friendships that will last a lifetime and that is priceless. If I can inspire just one student-athlete to make a positive change or set a goal and reach it, this has been worth every second.  Look at the relationships I’ve built and what this tremendous group of people have done for my family and our community. I’ve had a tremendous support system since my spinal cord injury in 1981. My family and friends have been with me through it all. I cannot thank them enough for that. I only have one thing for them all. NBL!”

“This is another uniquely Northern Kentucky story that translates to a legacy of giving that will support our local students for years to come,” said Horizon Community Funds President Nancy Grayson. “Friends coming together, then assembling a larger group of community supporters, to lift students in the name of a person they deeply admire and respect is a story that moves us all. Horizon Community Funds is honored to play our part to bring this scholarship fund to life in Boone County.”

Fund partnerships with Horizon Community Funds provide a flexible way for donors to support their preferred nonprofit organization or charitable effort. Donors can make an endowed gift to support the mission of the nonprofit organization for generations to come, or can opt to make a non-endowed gift which provides funding for needs as they arise in Northern Kentucky. Horizon Community Funds offers donors and fund holders a deep connection to Northern Kentucky, including its nonprofits and needs.

For more information or to make a gift to the Carlotta Family and Friends Scholarship Fund at Horizon Community Funds, visit www.horizonfunds.org or call Nancy Grayson at 859.757.1552. Checks can also be mailed to Horizon Community Funds at 50 E. RiverCenter Blvd., Suite 431, Covington, KY 41011 (memo: Carlotta Family and Friends Scholarship Fund).