The Fidelians of America organization was founded in 1939, when four businessmen met at the Alexander Hamilton Hotel in Paterson, New Jersey. Their initial goal was to distribute milk to needy children throughout the city and the charitable works of the organization have continued unabated for almost eight decades.
As their membership increased, the country’s entry into the Second World War saw the service of many Fidelians. Those who could not serve in the war directly made their efforts felt through War Bond Rallies, setting up a Victory Booth in front of Paterson’s City Hall and encouraging residents to “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “Buy another Bond.” The group sold more than $500,000 in war bonds, about $7,000,000 in today’s value. They money was used to buy a B-24 Liberator bomber for the Army Air Corps Bomber division named ‘The Fidelian.’
The organization has come a long way since World War II. Times have changed, but the mission for the Fidelians of America, has remained the same, one of giving. Today the group continues to raise money, but provides donations to families whose children suffer from chronic illnesses or disabilities.
Fidelians derived its name from the word fidelity, which means faithful to a cause. In the case of the organization, their cause is perpetuation of Italian ideals, customs and service to the community. During the years of the Fidelians existence, it has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities including hospitals, patients with terminal illnesses, scholarships and subsidized recreational camps for underprivileged individuals, including the operation of Camp Fidelian in North Haledon, New Jersey.
Camp Fidelian is a summer camp for children with Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Many of the children who started with the camp in the early 1980s are adults now and continue to be helped by the Fidelians. The organization also donates the use of the summer camp to other groups. The Fidelians purchased the site almost 40 years ago and members, many of whom were in the trades, remodeled it as a labor of love. The facilities include a swimming pool, shower room, arts and crafts room and an air conditioned meeting room. Fidelians’ President Gene Coppola recalled the camp was opened after Fidelians learned that a group of children with Down Syndrome had lost its summer camp. “They were at a religious property which was slated for a different use,” said Coppola. “I called them up and said, ‘We’ll take them.’”
The club’s goals, Coppola said, have remained the same throughout the years – “We find out about needy families and give directly to the people, so there is no middle man.”
Fidelians Foundation Inc., the group’s nonprofit branch, has an outreach committee that identifies children with disabilities and chronic illnesses when considering donations. The disabilities, or illnesses can sink the average family’s budget, according to trustee Dan Cataneo.
The Foundation recently donated $2,000 to four special needs children and presented the parents of four-year-old Troy Jarrell with a custom-made wheelchair and a check for $3,000 to help with his therapy costs. The child is blind and has cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia. Every year The Fidelians Foundation has a Christmas dinner for the disabled, where Santa distributes gifts, while the guests feast on a pasta dinner.
“A few years back, we reached the point where we wanted to do more,” recalled Coppola. “Life has been good to us. We have children and healthy grandchildren.”
The history of service for the 120 member club has included relief funds for victims of Italian earthquakes, scholarships and gifts for those in the pediatric ward at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson. The Fidelian Foundation also partners with the Mary Help of Christians Academy of North Haledon in their “Support a Nun Program.” Its purpose is to provide an annual stipend for the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco who oversee Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon. Their annual donation provides daily living expenses for Sr. Marisa DeRose. For more information or membership about this service organization, visit fideliansfoundationinc.com.
Members of Fidelians Foundation with the Jarrell Family. From left, Charles Tumminello, Dr. David Fontanella, Tatiana and Jason Jarrell, with their son Troy, Eugene Mastroianni, Michael Leonessa, Joseph Geronimo and Anthony Fiorello, Esq.
Fidelians participate in the “Support a Nun Program.” From left are Director of the Development Office of Mary Help of Christians Academy Sr. Mary Rinaldi; Chairman of the Fidelian Foundation Michael Leonessa and Sr. Marissa DeRose.
Fidelians have been running a summer camp for children with Down Syndrome and other developmental disabilities for nearly forty years.