Fundraiser scores big for family of basketball standout with Wyandanch roots
Wyandanch native Zakai Zeigler, a guard on the University of Tennessee men's basketball team, came off the bench to score 13 points in a win against Auburn. Hours later, his sister called with an urgent request: Call mom, now.
His sister gave no specifics so Zeigler didn't know what to expect when he made the call. When his mother, Charmane, picked up, "I was like ‘what’s going on,’ " Zeigler said of the call late last month. His mother was standing outside the three-story apartment building in Far Rockaway where the family lived, as it was engulfed in flames.
"She was outside crying across the street," said Zeigler, 19, adding that seeing the images made him "shut down." But not for long.
After the Feb. 26 fire, in which Charmane Zeigler and a nephew, Nori, 4, escaped but were left with no place to live, Zeigler and other family members, with help from the University of Tennessee community, created a GoFundMe page.
As of Tuesday night, the fundraising effort to help find his mother new housing and replace all that was lost in the fire had taken in a whopping $362,777. No injuries were reported, the FDNY reported, and the fire's cause is unknown.
Mary-Carter Eggert, director of basketball operations for the Knoxville university, said the school athletics department wanted to help Zeigler’s mother and nephew but had to follow NCAA rules. Eggert said she received a call from Charmane Zeigler on Feb. 27.
"Zakai went to work on building a GoFundMe with our staff here and we’re able to go from there and the rest is history," Eggert said.
The goal was to raise $50,000 in donations, according to the GoFundMe page, and may even result in mom being able to watch her son play home games.
"The East Tennessee community has embraced Zakai in such an impactful manner that his mother is exploring opportunities to relocate to Knoxville so that the family can spend more time together and Zakai can assist with Nori's care," reads a message on the page.
Zeigler, who before arriving in Tennessee made four-hour round trips from Wyandanch to play basketball at Immaculate Conception High School in Montclair, New Jersey, said he was "just in shock" by the amount of donations. Zeigler, his mother, and nephew moved from Wyandanch to the Far Rockaway apartment in 2020. He graduated from Our Saviour Lutheran School in the Bronx last year.
"I was so thankful and blessed that everybody was trying to help me and my family out," Zeigler said. "Words couldn’t even be explained. It was very hard for us mentally and physically because we knew we didn’t have anything left."
The university is working with the NCAA to determine how much of the funds the Zeigler family will be able to keep, said Tom Satkowiak, associate athletic director for communications at the school.
Charmane Zeigler said she’s overwhelmed by the support everyone has given to her family.
"I am so grateful for everybody to receive so much love," she said. "I’m just a girl from Wyandanch."