HACKENSACK, N.J. — For most of his adult life, Doug DiPaola made it part of his life’s work to ensure that disabled veterans had a safe, comfortable place to call home.
Akin to home renovation show “George To the Rescue,” the Harrington Park resident, husband and father applied his hefty background in construction management to enhance their homes to enable barrier-free living, free of charge. The name of this noble pursuit? Homes For Veterans.
Since its founding eight years ago, it wasn’t just a venerable nonprofit, but a trusted name synonymous with an altruistic spirit and allegiance to community service. He personally reached out to veterans and developed genuine relationships with the promise of a better living environment. The wheelchair-accessible ramp at the Paramus Veterans Home? Another of DiPaola’s doing. He did all he could to make the quality of life of such self-sacrificing individuals a little better. It meant that much to him as did his country.
When he passed away this past April following complications from the coronavirus, it didn’t stop the community at St. John’s Academy where his wife Joanne is a fifth-grade teacher, from carrying the torch of his blazing legacy and raising money for his beloved cause. While the coronavirus pandemic thwarted the Catholic school’s staging of its annual walkathon in which the student body participates to fundraise for a particular cause, the administration decided to continue its adaption to the changes the pandemic has produced (one of which was remote learning) and put on a virtual fun run/walkathon instead — all in honor of Homes for Veterans.
“Our students are the next generation of leaders and advocates for those in need, sharing the values they live every day at St. John’s Academy,” said school principal Suzanne Socha. “We are proud of their ability to adapt to what could have been a barrier to participating in an important fundraiser; instead, they embraced technology and change to help make a difference for our school community, in Mr. DiPaola’s loving memory.”
“It's a very warm and inviting community,” said Adam DeSimone, a Hackensack parent to Christian and Chloe, who are students at the pre-K through 8 Blue Ribbon Hillsdale school and whose daughter had Mrs. DiPaola as a teacher who made a “phenomenal impact” on his daughter.
"Her ability to relate to the child and connect with them, and push them to do better in a very nurturing way, it’s a hard thing to balance,” DeSimone noted.
So when Socha called for the event as a safe way to raise funds and involve the community at large, dozens of families were onboard.
“Any time something happens, we respond, and when we heard the news this was for Mrs. Diapola, we were driven to want to participate,” said DeSimone. "They were thrilled to do it. She’s an amazing teacher who had an incredible husband. What he believes in, we want to continue.”
On the sunny afternoon of Friday, June 12, the brother and sister team joined nearly 100 students who donned their most comfortable summer clothes to get outside and leisurely break a sweat in their favorite outdoor activity. Christian and Chloe, who will be going into second and sixth-grade in the fall, ran laps around the family home and through their backyard, while first-grader Sara Maresca of Montvale circled her outdoor kiddie pool on her bicycle. Fifth-grader Annabel Barra took her younger sister Amelia for a jog around their Oradell neighborhood, and victoriously raised each other’s arms at the conclusion.
Each family pledged a certain amount of money for their child’s efforts, collectively netting a handsome $10,000-plus, half of which will be donated to Homes for Veterans, a feat with which the principal was pleased.
“Given these times, especially with the unemployment rate so high and such uncertainty, the amount raised is quite amazing,” said Socha.
Socha said the virtual fun run/walkathon was an age-appropriate demonstration of DiPaola’s good work throughout his life for a cause in which he devoutly believed.
"The DiPaola family is known as a deeply spiritual, religious family that believes in practicing their faith in action, not just words,” she said.