By Aly Morrissey
In February, MLL named the HEADstrong Foundation as the official charity of the 2012 MLL All-Star Game. The game will serve as a vehicle to raise awareness and funds for those affected by blood cancer and will take place at FAU Stadium in Palm Beach County, FL on Saturday, June 30.
MLL had an opportunity to check in with Cheryl Colleluori, president of the HEADstrong Foundation, to learn more about the mission of the charity and about its involvement in the upcoming All-Star Game.
It’s been a while since we first announced the HEADstrong Foundation as the official charity of the 2012 MLL All-Star Game. Can you explain the mission of the HEADstrong Foundation and your thoughts on partnering with MLL for its marquee event?
The HEADstrong mission is to carry on the legacy and vision of HEADstrong founder, my son, Nicholas Colleluori through advocating fundraising and supporting those affected by blood cancer and those working to eliminate it. We feel so special to be partnering with MLL. I think I mentioned this before, but we have some pretty solid depth in the youth game and at the high school level and at the collegiate level but to be recognized by MLL and to come full circle confirms for us that we are doing it right and we are absolutely delighted.
The funds raised by the HEADstrong Foundation support several different outlets. Can you tell us about them?
I sure can. We have a couple different areas that we are involved in. Of course the research piece; you know traditional treatment did not work for Nick. We are looking at two different research portfolios that we are heavily involved with. They’re learning that by using ones own immune system to combat this disease, there has been some proven success and one of our missions in life is to eliminate this disease and do our part to assist in that. The other thing is providing financial support to those dealing with disease; we know personally what financial implications are involved when a disease strikes a family. To be able to raise those funds in Nick’s name and to honor him and to be able to help others during their times of need is an absolute privilege.
The other piece, the very exciting piece, is the opening if Nick’s House which has been open about 6 months now and we’ve been at 100 percent capacity. It is housing for out-of-town cancer patients coming into the Philadelphia area for specialized treatment that is offered here. There’s only a few nationally certified blood cancer centers throughout the country and we’re lucky that we have this in our backyard. We’ve had folks coming in from Canada, Colorado, southern New Jersey down by the shore, and we’ve been booked the entire time. This disease is not like a common cold; it doesn’t go away in a few days and the treatment is pretty lengthy. We are able to house two families with all the comforts of home including internet access, computer, laundry facilities and we’re located about eight miles away from the treatment center and available by public transportation. It’s just wonderful to be able to offer this piece and again easing that financial burden.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be doing on-site at the 2012 MLL All-Star Game in Florida?
Absolutely. We’re really delighted to be able to raise the awareness. We have been majorly impacted by this and so it’s up to us to share Nick’s story and make others aware of this disease and we do that of course through this phenomenal amazing lacrosse community and one of the things we will be doing besides raising the awareness is going to be helping with the revenues to sell some of our awareness items. The items are that infamous lime green which represents the type of cancer, the mature B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had in fact infected Nick. We can certainly make a difference by having people stop by and pick up, whether it’s our infamous shoe laces, an awareness band or our recent chin straps. Again it’s all our lacrosse community and our lacrosse audience that is our reason for success.
The HEADstrong logo will be prominently featured on the All-Star Game jerseys, which will be signed and auctioned after the game and the New Balance Foundation will match the proceeds. Can you tell us a bit more about this piece to the puzzle?
I think that it’s absolutely tremendous. The fact that the logo that Nicholas drew as he was undergoing this battle for his life on those jerseys is very significant. Were thrilled and we’re hoping that there is a lot of money generated to be able to further our mission, to help more people and hopefully someday our Nick’s House locally here in Philadelphia is a footprint and we’d like them to spread across the country. As we grow we’re hoping that they will grow too.
You mentioned earlier the Foundation’s undeniable tie with the sport of lacrosse. What has this sport done for the growth of the HEADstrong Foundation and how are they connected?
The reason for our existence is because of this sport. This is a sport that our boys were involved in from the time they were 7 and 8 years old and it has had a very wonderful and positive impact on our sons’ lives giving them the opportunity to further their collegiate career. It actually was Nick’s support system while he was undergoing treatment, this 14 month horrific battle, and continues to be our support and our encouragement for the HEADstrong Foundation. It’s an absolute privilege to be embraced by this community of people, even the young guys and girls just starting out already know about Nick and the fact that these young athletes are looking at Nick as their inspiration and their mantra and somebody they want to be like it is an absolute privilege. We’re just so proud to be part of this game.
The All-Star Game will be here before we know it, but what can fans do in the meantime to gain insight into the Foundation and to get involved?
They can certainly visit our website at www.headstrongfoundation.org. There are a ton of ways to get involved whether it be supporting a Score for a Cure program or our new HEADstart program, which is like an endurance program where people can actually go out and run a half marathon or a 5k and raise funds for the organization. There are even ways that teams can do a fundraising event right at one of their games. They can do a lax-a-thon or support us by wearing the shoe laces. There are all kinds of ways to get involved and also on the website it talks about what we are doing with those funds in Nick’s name.
Well Cheryl, I want to thank you for taking the time to catch up with us. It’s always a privilege to talk with you and to hear your story. We look forward to seeing you at the All-Star Game.
We are delighted and you know it’s very emotional and it’s very close to our heart and we try to do a great job in honoring Nick’s life because he was important and still is very important to us. We look forward to seeing you.
About HEADstrong Foundation
The HEADstrong Foundation mission is to carry on the legacy and vision of our Founder, my son Nick through advocating, fundraising and supporting those affected by and those working to eliminate blood cancers. HEADstrong Foundation generates funds for blood cancer research, distributes grants and provides quality of life services to patients and survivors of blood cancer. Nick’s House is the Foundation’s most recent accomplishment offering complimentary living accommodations for families with loved ones being treated in the Philadelphia metro area. The opening of Nick’s House furthers the organization’s mission by lessening the financial burden put on families battling cancer and providing them with the comforts of home.
Founder Nick “Head” Colleluori attended Hofstra University where he played lacrosse. While at Hofstra Nick was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While sick he began counseling other patients and began laying the framework for what would become the HEADstrong Foundation, in an effort to raise cancer awareness and help others and future patients that found themselves in a similar situation. In August of 2006 he even found the strength to play in one last lacrosse game. Nick passed away on November 28, 2006 at the age of 21. Even though he is gone, his memory and relentless determination lives on through the HEADstrong Foundation