PARK RIDGE, N.J. — Every single day, Steve and Teri Franco of Park Ridge do something to add to the legacy of their daughter.
Nicole "Nikki" Franco was killed two years ago at 19 years old. She was studying baking at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale – and working as a pastry chef at the Boca Raton Resort and Club — when her young life was violently cut short.
Her parents await the December trial of the juvenile charged in her death.
The family, which includes four other adult children, will go down to Florida, en masse, for the court proceedings.
“We go to bed at night thinking of her,” Teri said. “We go to bed at night thinking of her.”
Teri, aided by 10 volunteers, is organizing Casino Night, the second annual fundraiser of the Nikki Franco Foundation, at The Terrace at Biagio’s in Paramus. It will take place Sept. 9.
The couple has become attuned to spiritual signs their daughter’s spirit is still with them, Steve said.
“The signs are always there for us — butterflies, cardinals, feathers, pennies ,” he said. “They put a smile on our face.”
Nikki is in their conversation, memories lighting their eyes and the horror lingering, too.
“Some people are not comfortable talking about her,” Steve said. “We are. She’s alive in our house.”
Her spirit is alive in the world, too.
Last year, the event, held at the Park Ridge Elks Lodge, drew 250 people — more than the venue could handle — and raised $26,000.
This year, Detectives Kevin Forsberg and Val Perez, who worked Nikki’s case, are coming from Florida to attend.
The money raised goes to $2,500 scholarships for Park Ridge High School students pursuing culinary careers and for a dugout for the girls’ softball team on which Nikki played.
After the trial, the couple will work to enact a law, first in Florida, requiring apartment complexes and gated communities to notify residents when someone under house arrest is living there.
They don’t want to stop there.
“We’re talking about opening a bakery,” Teri said, “because she was going to do that.”
Today, though, it’s all about the fundraiser. Propped against furniture in the couple’s living room are items for the tricky tray that is part of the Casino Night event.
Amid them are blown-up pictures of Nikki, mounted on posterboards. Nikki, dressed to the nines. Nikki, playing softball. Nikki, baking.
“This is my favorite,” said Steve, picking up a picture of him and his daughter, taken from behind, as they walk together, side by side, toward the ocean.
“There it is right there,” he added. “This says it all.”