Delaware County nonprofit opens Nick's House to help families fighting cancer

Published by The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Melanie Bavaria, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: September 30, 2011

The tale of the Colleluori family of Holmes, Delaware County, is one of triumph emerging from tragedy.

It began in 2005, when son Nicholas, then 19, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

While he was being treated at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania for more than a year, his mother, father, and three brothers virtually "lived at Penn for weeks on end," mother Cheryl said.

"We promised we would never leave him," she said, weeping.

Despite his treatment, Nick Colleluori, a 2004 graduate of Ridley High School and a Division I lacrosse player at Hofstra University, died Nov. 28, 2006, at 21.

But before that, he had laid the groundwork for a nonprofit to raise cancer awareness and help others affected by the disease.

Called HEADstrong - a blend of Nick Colleluori's nickname, "Head," and the attitude with which he fought cancer - the foundation is under the direction of the Colleluori family, which for a time ran the small nonprofit from home.

While promoting and running HEADstrong, Cheryl Colleluori works as a manager at a Staples store. Husband Pat, who retired from Coca-Cola Co., now works with special-needs children in the local school district.

This week was a milestone for HEADstrong. On Wednesday, it opened "Nick's House," a two-story building in Holmes that will serve as the nonprofit's headquarters while providing a free two-bedroom apartment for out-of-town families with loved ones being treated anywhere in the region.

The idea is similar to others. Penn has converted a fraternity house to host families and patients undergoing transplants at its hospital.

The Colleluoris are working to provide transportation to the nearby Regional Rail line for an easy commute to the hospital. They also want to provide gift cards for local restaurants and stores. The goal is to minimize expenses for families who stay at Nick's House.

The house has been renovated and furnished entirely with donated goods and services. The property, bought for $95,000, had been abandoned for three years and was in disrepair.

Pat Colleluori Sr. was the mastermind behind renovating Nick's House. He had help from son Daniel, 29.

"There was really bad water damage and mold everywhere. . . . We had a squirrel infestation and they had eaten all the wires. We needed all new electricity," Cheryl Colleluori said, adding that the local community was responsive.

"They all just asked, 'What do you need?' " she said.

The foundation is a family affair. Cheryl Colleluori is president and chief executive officer. Son Michael, 24, is vice president and chief operating officer. Oldest son Pat, 31, serves as marketing director and is in charge of product design for the foundation's varied merchandise.

"I cry every day, missing him," Cheryl Colleluori said, "but this is how I stay connected to him. . . . This was his dream."

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