Jerry Del Priore
On a beautiful, sun-kissed Saturday afternoon, family, friends and people from all over Bergen Beach and beyond gathered to celebrate the memory of Tommy Meo Jr. at the 15th Annual Spirit of Life Walkathon at Joseph T. McGuire Park in Bergen Beach.
Tommy was a 12-year-old boy who was tragically killed in an accident on September 22, 2000.
Every year, the close-knit Bergen Beach community gathers to pay tribute to the young boy’s selfless, giving spirit, his dedication to sports and gift for loving life and people way beyond his youthful age .
“Tommy Meo Jr. was an active youth sports participant,” said Paul Curiale, executive director of Millennium Development and administrator for Bergen Beach Youth Organization, which Meo Jr. played multiple organized sports through. “Probably, over the course of my tenure here, 24 years, Tommy was one of the most intense, athletically gifted kids and had just an incredible personality.”
Spirit of Life is a non-profit organization started by the Meo family shortly after Tommy’s passing, dedicated to helping the less fortunate. Through the walkathon’s fundraising efforts, the organization has been able to use the monies it collects to directly help families and children in need.
“This year, we’re helping an organization called SOARD, which stands for Sunshine on a Ranney Day,” explained Gina Gampero, one of Tommy’s three sisters. “It’s a charity that does dream room makeovers. This is the third year that we’re sponsoring a bedroom makeover. This year, it’s a 14-year-old boy with Down Syndrome.”
But the philanthropy doesn’t stop there. Spirit of Life—in conjunction with Gianna Nicole’s Heart of Hope Foundation, a Staten Island-based charity that helps children battle cancer—is also lending a helping hand to an eighth-grade Staten Island student who is currently fighting non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“For my family, we took such a negative experience, and we see how much positive that we made from it,” Gampero said. “And for us, that’s rewarding. After 15 years, we still get the same great crowd—new people and old people, people that didn’t even know us, and they’re meeting our brother for the first time. For us, that’s the best part.”