How A “Beef & Beer” Benefit Inspired The Creation Of The HEADstrong Foundation

How A “Beef & Beer” Benefit Inspired The Creation Of The HEADstrong Foundation

HOLMES,PA – Have you ever heard of a “Beef & Beer” benefit?  You may have heard the term, you may have even been to one.  For those hailing from the close-knit, hardworking, blue-color suburbs of Philadelphia, a “Beef & Beer” is commonplace. It’s a social gathering organized by community stewards to unite, raise money and help in a great time of need. It’s a way for everyone in a community to do their part and make a difference for a family that’s fallen on hard times or a charitable cause. Before the days of crowd fundraising and mobile giving, a “Beer & Beer” was how a community played their philanthropic position and flexed its generosity muscle.  

This is the amazing story of how a “Beef & Beer” benefit, held on April 1st, 2006, sparked that movement which is known today as the HEADstrong Foundation, a non-profit organization which has proudly assisted over 18,000 families since their inception.   

Let’s go back in time to 2006.  Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori, a 19-year old, NCAA student-athlete was in a fight for his life against non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Due to the severity of the situation, his parents, Pat and Cheryl decided to take a leave of absence from their employers to provide a greater level of care. With their incomes frozen, medical debt amounting and 5 months of unsuccessful treatment under their belts, they learned that the next step in their son’s treatment was an autologous stem cell transplant. The transplant was risky and still in early development, but given the diagnosis, physicians felt that Nicholas was a prime candidate. The transplant would not only require a lengthy inpatient stay but a 60-day post transplant quarantine to rebuild his immune system.  Upon meeting with physicians, a mid-April date was scheduled. 

The news of Nicholas’ transplant quickly spread through the community and soon thereafter a collective of friends and loved ones stepped forward to organize a benefit to help the Colleluori family navigate the overwhelming medical costs and debt.  The effort was led by Rose Porsche, Nicholas’ aunt and godmother. In 1993, when her late husband Fred (Nicholas’ godfather) was diagnosed with Leukemia, Pat, Cheryl and their family organized a benefit to raise funds to support her family in preparation for Fred’s bone marrow transplant. Fred was just 34 years old and a father to 3 girls under 10 years old when he was diagnosed. He passed just months after receiving a bone marrow transplant in which his brother Pat (Nicholas’ father) was the donor.  

In less than 4 weeks, Porsche alongside the Colleluori’s family and closest friends mobilized an incredible call-to-action.  The event was scheduled for April 1st, 2006 and would be held in the gymnasium of Notre Dame de Lourdes Church in Swarthmore,PA, just minutes from where Nick’s House currently stands. The effort pulled from all sides of the community and people rallied in the most uplifting of ways. Tickets and t-shirts sold faster than they could be printed, donations and goodwill poured in from all over the region. Businesses gave generously to show their unyielding support for the Colleluori family, who were long-time community supporters.  

After weeks of planning, it was now event day. Supporters packed the Notre Dame de Lourdes gymnasium.  A line which seemed to go on for days, continued down the street. Friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, coaches, teammates, teachers and classmates had gathered to support the family. Even the Hofstra University men’s lacrosse team trekked over 140 miles from Hempstead, NY to be part of the event.

At the time, Nicholas was immunocompromised and had developed bronchitis as a result. It was unclear if he would be well enough to attend the event. The atmosphere was lively, full of people eating, drinking, dancing and basking in the positivity of the moment.  

And then all of a sudden, the gymnasium went quiet.  Standing in the doorway was Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. He was wearing a medical facemask and a gold colored Hofstra t-shirt which read “RELENTLESS” across the back. The crowd parted and Nicholas proceeded to the stage. The capacity crowd began clapping and cheering as Nicholas took the mic from the disc jockey. For a moment he took in the site and removed the facemask revealing a huge smile. He proceeded to address the crowd, speaking for the first time publicly about his cancer fight.

He said “I cannot begin to thank you enough.  It means so much to have you in my corner.  They say my cancer is aggressive, but they don’t know Nick Colleluori.  They say that most people don’t survive this type of cancer, but they don’t know Nick Colleluori.  One thing is for certain, they WILL know Nick Colleluori. We may not have the answers and none of us really knows what’s in store, but together we can control the controllables, we can make a difference for families. Together we are HEADstrong!”.  The crowd erupted, chanting “HEAD, HEAD, HEAD!”. HEAD was Nicholas’s childhood nickname.  

Nicholas spent the rest of evening in the company of his closest of friends and loved ones. It was an incredible night that raised over $60,000. And while raising $60,000 was an amazing feat, the outpouring of support gave him the confidence necessary to fight on.  The act of simply being there for him during his most vulnerable state was all that he needed to keep going. He was so taken back by the generosity bestowed on himself and his family that he was inspired to use a percentage of the proceeds to enhance the amenities at the hospital for caregivers. It was during lengthy inpatient treatment that Colleluori identified a lack of available amenities which included reclining chairs and entertainment outlets. He decided that he could use his platform as a mechanism to not only shed light on these issues but put forth tangible solutions to improve the well-being of the patients, medical staff and caregivers.  

During his stem cell transplant Nicholas was inpatient for 45 days. It was the most physically, emotionally and financially exhausting time for the Colleluori family during their journey. Nicholas carried guilt from knowing that something that was uncontrollably happening to him, was having such a devastating toll on the ones that he cared most about.  So from his hospital bed, armed with a notepad and a pencil, Nicholas proceeded to create the resource that he wished existed for his family. While hooked up to monitors, oxygen tubes and IV’s, this amazing young man used this time to sketch his short-term and long-term goals as well as his vision for an organization that he called the HEADstrong Foundation.  And serving as his primary motivation, was the love and support displayed to him and his family through his “Beef and Beer”.