Chaminade alumna’s TikTok post viewed 15 million times
Even before the emergence of social media, Liz Rizzo was already documenting and sharing her life, snapping what are now largely known as selfies and keeping a diary for as long as she can remember. Then Facebook, Instagram and TikTok came along. The latter would help propel the Chaminade alumna to national and international stardom, attracting the media attention of multiple news stations across the country, 400 national and international newspapers, radio stations, “Inside Edition,” “Tamron Hall Show,“ “Good Morning America,” and even the U.K.’s “The Daily Mail.com.”
In a 49-second TikTok clip, Rizzo turned 82-year-old Carman Kelly’s life into a media sensation, taking her viral and being watched more than 15 million times. Due to health issues, Kelly has to use a cane—even when greeting shoppers at an Arizona Walmart.
And that’s where the story begins.
“I saw Carman, and she just cracked my heart open,” recalled Rizzo, who graduated from Chaminade with an Associate Degree (’00), BA in Psychology (’10) and master’s in Criminal Justice (’14). “I see this elderly woman with a cane, leaning on a shopping cart, and working. I just turned my camera on. I didn’t even think about it. I felt it was divine intervention.”
Rizzo stayed true to her word, promising Kelly that she would make sure that her TikTok post would go viral. And it did. In the post, Rizzo pleaded with viewers to help Kelly by donating to a GoFundMe account she had set up for the 82 year old.
“We talked afterwards and I asked her, ‘Do you have to work here?’” said Rizzo, adding that she asked Kelly for permission to share the video beforehand. “We did her bills and it came up to about $10,000, so that’s what I put on GoFundMe.”
At 82, Kelly is one of many Americans who are 65 and older and likely have to pay higher medical costs out-of-pocket, according to a 2022 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency. Another report from the Kaiser Family Foundation also estimates that about 41 percent of adults have some kind of medical or dental bill debt, showing Kelly’s situation isn’t unusual.
To date, over 9,000 donations, totaling more than $133,000, have poured into the online fundraiser for Kelly, who had only $50 in the bank when she first met Rizzo.
“I’ve been having a really hard time money wise, medical wise and I’ve fallen quite a few times over the past year, and so I had some big hospital bills from that,” Kelly told “Good Morning America.” “My Walmart money, it helped me pay for food and gas and other things.”
However, now that she’s about to receive a big windfall, Kelly said she “still can’t believe it’s happened.”
“I’m going to be able to pay off all my bills, get a new place to live, hopefully [an] assisted living place to just help me with life,” she said. “I can never ever, ever thank her enough for doing this. I mean, she was a total stranger to me and it’s like God sent her to me. And I really feel that way because she has been absolutely wonderful.”
For Rizzo, doing good and helping others was instilled in her by her late grandmother, who used to instruct her to remove any pebbles from the sidewalk so older people wouldn’t accidentally trip. Kind, generous and empathetic help describe the 68-year-old music publisher. But what defines her are her actions.
“I’ve always approached life like a buffet,” quipped Rizzo, whose late service dog, Buddy, used to accompany her to classes when she was enrolled in Chaminade’s master’s program. “I want to sample everything—and I have. I’ve never wanted to work at a same job for 40 years, take a cruise and then retire. There’s too much to do, and people to help.”