Backpacks for Life

Brett, CPL. USMC   (Images in the article by Alexa Modero and the team at  Backpacks for Life ) 

Brett, CPL. USMC   (Images in the article by Alexa Modero and the team at Backpacks for Life

Brett D'Alessandro is a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and a resident of Verona, NJ. After returning from active duty in Afghanistan and while working at his unit in Providence Rhode Island, Brett saw a homeless man who held a sign indicating that he was a Vietnam veteran.  That evening, Brett filled one of his own backpacks from his tour with some clothing and socks and gave it to the man the next morning. Some time later he saw a small child walking alongside the same man, wearing the backpack proudly. 

 "I stopped to say hello and the homeless man explained to me that his wife had become very sick and the warming layers were helping her tremendously. It was in this moment that I knew I wanted to help others get back on their feet and give them a second chance at life.”, Brett recounts.  And so Backpacks for Life was born. 

Supported by Co-Founders Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke, the organization secures backpacks through donations and packs them with seasonal materials including toiletries, clothing, a notebook & pen, as well as resource pamphlets (where to find housing, insurance, jobs, etc.). Their mission is to provide homeless veterans with the basic life essentials that they cannot provide for themselves. With each backpack, they hope to not only provide homeless veterans with the things they need for daily living but also, give them hope and resources for the future. 

Founder Brett D'Alessandro and Co-Founders   Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke at Stand Down Weekend in Rhode Island.

Founder Brett D'Alessandro and Co-Founders Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke at Stand Down Weekend in Rhode Island.

Backpacks for Life is spreading their mission in the community. Since their launch in September, they've participated in Operation Stand Down's 'Stand Down Weekend' where they distributed 400 packs to veterans in need, hosted a Bocce Tournament raising $3,000 towards their mission, and packed backpacks with a troop of eager Brownies in New Jersey. Each and every pack distributed is distinct as it is marked with the Backpacks for Life patch, designed by Joanna Maher of Look North Inc. along with the logo, website, and branded identity materials. 

Co-founder Alexa Modero reflects on her journey thus far. "This experience of creating a nonprofit organization makes me realize everyone has the ability to leave this world better than how we found it. By supporting veterans who have fought for my freedom, I feel that this is my way of giving back to them. Its a truly humbling experience to see how appreciative and receptive homeless veterans are towards people willing to give them assistance."

While there is conflict and unrest at home and abroad, it is essential to remember the men and women who protect our nation and its people. We mustn't forget to support them after their formal duties have ended. The hardest battle for many is integrating back into civilian life. Backpacks for Life is providing a crucial service to forgotten veterans and we applaud them, but they need our help - to donate, visit their website. Interested in contributing materials, see what they provide in their packs.

& follow along with Backpacks for Life:

About Look North Inc. 

Look North is an award-winning creative and technology studio located in Montclair, New Jersey. What started as a curiousity of all things digital grew into a full-fledged obsession with modern communication tools and techniques. We encourage and actively participate in professional, community and personal organizations and initiatives including volunteer programs and non-profit work. 

We've been fortunate to work with alongside these three inspiring young people who are making an impact in the Veteran community.  Creative Director and Designer, Joanna Maher, was responsible for logo, website, identity, and collateral design. To work with Joanna and the team at Look North Inc, visit our website

Strawberry Rhubarb

Some may believe Memorial Day marks the beginning of the barbecue season or the first weekend it is warm enough to go to the beach. Admittedly, we indulged during the long weekend. We got together with friends and family, spent time in the sunshine, waded in the lagoon and had too many hot dogs, but more importantly we paid tribute to our troops. Selfless men and women who have sacrificed their own freedom and even lives to ensure people they have never even met might enjoy those very things. It was a weekend laden with emotion and ceremony. My boyfriend James, former active duty United States Marine, shared a tribute with my family on Monday afternoon. He bought an extra six pack of beer. We opened each can, one by one, pouring them over the grass to honor the fallen. He cried which is rare; I cried which is not rare. Everyone cried grateful tears, appreciative tears for lives lost and the lives still entangled in conflicts around the world. 


Someone in the digital sphere had said we can give thanks by living a life worthy of their sacrifice. While I can't save lives in the same way, I can endeavor to make the world a tad more kind, even sweeter. I took to my large pile of magazines and found a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie recipe from the Food Network. I found rhubarb at the market, an ingredient I have never worked with, and I got acquainted with its raw bitterness. I spent hours alone in my kitchen, following every step and assembling my very first pie, entirely from scratch. Berries were washed, butter cubed, and dough kneaded. 

While the dough was chilling we got a great rain and I listened to the calming melody of falling drops on the window sill. I rolled out the crusts and mixed the filling with sugar and the juice of just one lemon. The pie was arranged on a soaked picnic table as the drops made a lovely pattern. 

My crust strips may have been uneven, but the pie was bursting with character. It made me very proud to make something, every component, from start to finish. In to the oven it went, the aroma bewitching. Butter and fruit filled my home. We enjoyed the pie on Memorial Day with fresh whipped cream and touch of vanilla, silently giving thanks to the men and women away from their families. God willing most will return home, but the bitter reality dictates otherwise. May we never forgot them and strive to live lives worthy of their sacrifice. 

Spread the Word and Sundance

I was tabling in Red Square a few Marches back as a student at Georgetown. Red Square was a safe place for students to converge and share their heartfelt views via flyers, sidewalk chalk, and demonstrations. It was conveniently located in the almost-center of campus, trafficked by droves of undergraduate and graduate students day in and out. A ripe place to spread the word.

Alongside other Best Buddies  participants, I was tabling to spread the word to end the derogatory use of the word "retard", a word that has become all too common, used to implying someone or something is less or flawed in our society. Joining other advocates of the Spread the Word to End the Word movement nationwide, we had a petition to be signed by passer-bys.

"I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities."

While we were received rather positively overall and gathered many signatures, there is one encounter in particular that stands out in my memory. A man started to question us about his First Amendment Constitutional right to freedom of speech. He was outraged by this entreaty to end hateful language. I was a little younger then and likely more docile from what I can recall, but with the arrival of the R-Word's annual day of awareness (March 5, 2014), I am moved to offer my take on the matter yet again. 

To the abrasive man from Red Square, I say...

We must not misconstrue a right for an obligation. We are indeed protected by the Constitution of the United States to speak as we wish, and to use whatever language we have the opportunity to use. After all, words are nothing but letters strung together in sequence. What is conveyed and implied by these words, however, affects other people. Rights are sacred, but need not be abused. 

I have the rights to behave combatively,  to spew hurtful speech, berate, and break down others if I want to. I have the ability to behave like an imbecile, to lie, steal, and cheat. A perversion of our Constitution can protect these behaviors as well.  More important than rights is an obligation to  be a decent human being. The right to do something in no way requires that behavior. 

So yes, the man in Red Square can use the r-word if he lacks an alternative to use in it's place, but I would challenge him to consider the impact of his speech. To reflect on how the world will receive his words and challenge the ostracism of talented and vibrant individuals worldwide. I fell fervently that eliminating the use of the r-word will diminish the divide cast between populations of varying abilities. We will celebrate our differences rather than condemn them.

A takeaway. This video speaks to the courage of a spirited young boy with Down Syndrome. Fueled by his family's love, acceptance, and encouragement, Beau made it all the way to the Sundance Film Festival for his role in LITTLE ACCIDENTS . I don't know of many people who have achieved the same; I see nothing but abilities here. Do you?