By Ed Morrone
This week’s Nick’s House volunteer Q&A focuses on David & Deb Calvaresi, a married couple who used their own experience of having a child go through a cancer diagnosis as an impetus to volunteer and give back to charitable organizations. David is the founder of ValSource, a successful company that “delivers consulting services, resources and solutions for the biological, medical device and pharmaceutical industries,” and also sits on the HEADstrong board.
HEADstrong: How long have you been involved with HEADstrong, and how and why did you join the foundation’s cause?
David Calvaresi: At least five years now, maybe longer.
Deb Calvaresi: Our son had cancer a long time ago. He had a brain tumor. We went and stayed in Florida (for his treatment) and we got an apartment. It was a nice apartment, and we could afford it; we knew we wanted to give back.
David: We had looked at buying a condo in the city (Philadelphia) and giving it out to families that were here seeking treatment, because we went through the same process and met a lot of families that financially couldn’t swing it. We made a couple of different offers, but the Homeowners’ Association shot us down when we told them what we wanted to do. Then, out of the blue, (former Hofstra softball player and friend of HEADstrong founder Nick Colleluori) Genevieve Haney’s uncle and brother, both of whom work for me, approached me about sponsoring a table at the HEADstrong Gala. I thought, ‘This would be a fun night out.’ I really had no idea what HEADstrong was about, I just did it as a favor. After the gale, we went and introduced ourselves to Cheryl. I told her our story and how appreciative we were of everything they were trying to do. I also told her how we were trying to buy a condo. We continued to build a relationship. We are a big supporter, and ultimately I ended up getting on the board.
Deb: Her son’s name was Nick; our son’s name was Nick. He liked the color green, and our son was a green guy. Cheryl’s Nick wore No. 27, and so did our son. There were so many similarities.
HS: How have your responsibilities and roles changed since your initial involvement? What are some of the things you do?
David: I got involved several years ago on the board; back then, it was fairly small. I think I might have been the first non-friend and family member to join. Over the years, we’ve been able to add more board members who are supportive of the cause, but aren’t as emotionally invested, which is great since it allows us to take a step back and evaluate things from a business perspective more so than an emotional one. One of the biggest things we did was get everyone together for some strategic planning. We had to figure out what HEADstrong wanted to do. ‘What is our mission? What are our core values?’ What came out of that was Nick’s House. We quickly realized being able to provide this type of facility was what we wanted to focus on. That was the genesis of Nick’s House that set the ball in motion. We looked for properties and found this place (in Swarthmore). It’s the fruition of that meeting, which is great to see just three years later.
HS: Talk about this place/facility. Is the HEADstrong mission being lived out in true form?
David: Absolutely. Deb lived it more so than I. The Proton Therapy Center (at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania), a big reason why a lot of people are at Nick’s House, wasn’t in existence when our son was sick. There were only five in the country, and we were fortunate to get enrolled in the one in Jacksonville. We packed and drove to Florida; my wife and son Nick stayed there several weeks, while my other two children and I floated back and forth as best we could. But Deb was there alone, Deb and my son, that was it. There was no support network, no friends, no family; just the two. This place gives you a sense of comfort. That’s what Nick’s mission was: create a family atmosphere, a home away from home.
HS: What keeps you coming back to volunteer on a weekly basis?
Deb: The first time you hear a doctor say, ‘You have cancer,’ your world falls apart. It’s a special club, one you don’t want to become a member of. That’s why we’re here.
David: It’s tough, but one of the beauties of this place is knowing you’re not alone. Our initial mission was to provide financial assistance. It’s great when you live around here and can drive 15 to 20 minutes into the city to get really good medical care, but that’s probably 50 percent of the population. The other 50 is left to make pretty dire decisions: How do you split up a family for months? How do you afford two households? We were fortunate, because financially we could afford it. We were in the minority, so that’s what we wanted to accomplish with Nick’s House.
HS: What makes HEADstrong and what the foundation offers special and unique, from your perspective?
Deb: Cheryl gives you her heart. She is very giving.
David: One of the things I think that sets HEADstrong apart is the desire to try to give folks going through something unimaginable a sense of normalcy. There are lots of foundations that will provide financial assistance, just like there are foundations with places they can put you into. But again, you’re on your own. One of the things I think sets this place apart is what Nick’s mission was: creating that sense of normalcy, of home. I don’t know anyone else that does that. When we did our strategic planning, one of the things we realized was we could either help a lot of people a little bit, or we could have a significant impact on a few people’s lives. We chose the latter.
HS: Do you envision more Nick’s Houses in the future? What would it mean to be able to help even more people?
David: Absolutely. I’d like to see them in every major metropolitan area. More are needed. We could probably add five or six more in the Greater Philadelphia area; there’s that much of a need with people coming from all over. People are not going to drive that far, and if they don’t have access to a place like Nick’s House, the outcome is not so great for them. We get requests all the time for financial aid, and more of that is definitely needed. But for us, it made more sense to create Nick’s House to demonstrate what we could do, in the hope that we would be able to bring people here to show them what we have accomplished, how we interact with and have impacted the lives of people staying here.
The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.