The Secret to Her Success - Spring 2007 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Spring 2007

The Secret to Her Success

By Jeannette Burgan

What is the secret to true success? Carmela Ciccone Trotta, an inspirational woman who hails from Altoona, would claim that there is no secret at all; her personal accomplishments have stemmed from a healthy work ethic, a positive outlook in any environment, and an ever-present gratitude for every life experience.

Born in Pontecorvo, Italy, Trotta enjoyed a traditional up-bringing on her grandparents' farm, learning how to make cheese, sausage and bread, and how to can fruits and vegetables. The family also produced its own wine and raised livestock. When Trotta reminisces on her childhood, she remembers the close family ties the best. "Family is the most important thing," she says.

She moved to San Paulo, Brazil at the age of 12 because of an economic recession. While there, she and her siblings learned the valuable art of hand-knitting sweaters. Trotta's unique interest in knitting soon resulted in an exclusive line of machinewoven clothing. Her hobby led to a small family business, which was extremely profitable for many years.

Seeking a fresh start to her life for personal reasons, Trotta and her daughter, Anita Ciccone Francio, came to the U.S. in 2001 and joined Trotta's sister who had previously settled in Altoona. They lived with sister Rosa Castrechini for a few months before Trotta remarried. She quickly started attending English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the Education Community Center at Steven's School. Trotta had been searching for a way for her and Anita to network with other families, and she found such a venue in the Altoona Family Literacy Program. Anita started attending Head Start in the same building.


Trotta specifically gravitated to the literacy program because of its focus on family relationships; she credits this program with greatly assisting her family, as well as the many other individuals involved. Through the program, children use their unbridled imaginations while parents share in their learning process. According to Trotta, because safe, nonjudgmental environments are conducive for learning a new language or for simply furthering one's literacy, the Altoona Family Literacy Program strives to make every meeting a comfortable learning environment; in this way, families are able to interact with one another with ease.

Trotta and Anita prospered as a result of this security. "The literacy program strengthens the bonds between parent and child," she states. "Most importantly, it is free and fun and provides promising opportunities for the future." Both Trotta and her daughter have become impassioned ambassadors for the program.

2006 was a banner year for Trotta, as she obtained both her associate degree in Business from Penn State Altoona and her U.S. citizenship. She continues to grow intellectually and emotionally in Altoona, sharing not only her gifts but her vivacious personality with people throughout the community. Because she speaks five languages fluently, she has tutored Spanish and Italian students. She has worked occasionally with individuals with special needs and was a classroom volunteer for the Altoona Area School District.

"[Learning a] language is just the tip of the iceberg when you move [to] another place. Cultural things are different. Something that is normal to you, is not normal to me! We have to learn to accept other places and other people's lives and not be prejudice[d]."


Trotta's intense desire to maintain deepseeded family roots is most evident in the rare moments she spends with her sister and daughter, combining different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences when cooking. She owes her successes to what she describes as "survival skills"—a person must adopt the best aspects from every culture they encounter, learn from their experiences, and take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. "Either you learn, or perish," Trotta explains. "People have a wonderful chance to succeed if they use the resources available to them and work hard to achieve their goals."


Her encouraging message and life example has not gone unnoticed. A prestigious organization dedicated to long-term educational reform, the National Conference for Family Literacy (NCFL) selected Trotta to speak at its annual conference. Held in March at Walt Disney World Resorts in Orlando, Florida, the conference featured speakers who had benefited greatly from the literacy program. Trotta was more than eager to share her personal account of how the Altoona Literacy Program opened doors and helped both her and Anita to adapt.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) recently awarded Trotta for her outstanding performance in the community. Each year, ABLE selects ten people to honor as Outstanding Adult Students, a title more popularly known as "Success Stories." In May, Trotta attended a recognition ceremony in Harrisburg; her picture will appear in ABLE's annual calendar and she will be featured on a video as an example of how one can benefit from the Literacy Program.

Presently, she is pursuing her bachelor's degree in Marketing and Management with an emphasis in International Business. She's grateful for the opportunity to attend college at this stage in her life; previously she was too busy with the family sweater business to pursue her academic goals. Although she'll occasionally do alterations or knitting projects for friends, she has no plans to continue this aspect of her career. Instead, she has a desire to travel while she works, to gain more experiences and basically enjoy life to its fullest. She hopes that other people will learn from her story —to not just survive in various environments, but to absolutely flourish. And to also remember what is truly important in this world.

Advises Trotta, "Family first. Always. Some people get carried away with jobs and money and forget family. That is not the point of life."