Saturday, September 29, was a great day for the annual Backpacks for Life and Dreams Can Happen charity bocce tournament in Verona Park. This year was the fifth annual event and the largest so far, with 18 teams participating: From men to women, from young to old, nothing stops these bocce players from participating. Verona Park is the home to game after game of the sport every day, and the tournament gives these players a chance to show off and support a good cause.
Dreams Can Happen was created in 2012 by three Montclair natives: JR D’Alessandro, Pat Caggiano and Peter Lombardi. The Montclair-based charity works with local families and provides financial aid to those who are in need. The foundation also built the bocce courts in Verona Park several years ago.
Backpacks for Life was created for homeless veterans in 2014 by Brett D’Alessandro, the Verona nephew of a co-founder of Dreams Can Happen, and Alexa Modero. It now helps to get veterans back on their feet by providing them with any type of assistance that they might need, from basic care supplies to housing. On November 1, Backpacks for Life will launch a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to produce a backpack, the Bowery Pack, specifically designed for the needs of the veterans they serve.
“We look foward to doing this event every year in Verona since it’s where we started Backpacks For Life,” says Modero.
Many local businesses came out to participate this year, and there was even a team from the Verona PBA Local #72. A highlight of the day was the appearance of a Marine Corps color guard. D’Alessandro is a Marine Corps veteran and served in Afghanistan. “We grow every year, but there is a core group of people who always participate,” says Modero.
She and D’Alessandro even got to participate in the tournament this year. Modero usually spends the tournament working the stand and spreading information about Backpacks for Life, telling passersby about the charity’s work and why they do what they do.
The tournament is filled with as many people as the courts can hold, hosting game after game all Saturday. The foundations provided large amounts of food, music, and cigar rollers. The event catered to both Italian-American patrons and all types of people that attended.
D’Alessandro and Modero said that while the bocce tournament may not be their top fundraiser, it is one of their favorites because it is a unique fundraiser that incorporates locals and families. It is, they said, a great time to just hangout with friends and support a good cause. “It was a huge success and it will be happening again next year,” said D’Alessandro.
“We are grateful to get support form the local community and local businesses who play in and sponsor the event,” added Modero.