John Sitomer and The Council of Dads
By Krista Martinelli
There’s an organization that keeps on giving in our Wellington community, even during this challenging time; it’s called The Council of Dads. It was founded two years ago when John Sitomer thought he might be on his death bed. The good news is that Sitomer is a two-time cancer survivor and is doing well today.
“The second bout hit me really hard. I ended up in Eugene, Oregon at a Leukemia Research Center. They accepted me on a trial basis. It nearly killed me. I spent two hellish years with 14 hospital stays. I received cards and letters from all over the world. I received a book called ‘The Council of Dads,’ written by a Dad from Brooklyn, NY.” As it turns out, the book made an impact on Sitomer. Written by a Dad with a life-threatening illness, he asked 8 or so other fathers, “If I don’t make it, can you watch over my kids and give them the tools to make it later in life?” Sitomer had an inspired moment and raced to get a legal pad. “I wrote down about 60 names of people in our community. I called each one individually and we went for coffee or lunch. Our Wellington Council of Dads was formed in April of 2018. By the way, the first eight people I asked, all said yes to being on the council.”
As time went by, Sitomer realized he needed a woman’s input too and added a Mom to the group, Robin Carrier, who’s a Dean at King’s Academy. She gave me a “resounding yes,” he says. Each member pays dues and puts time into the organization. And as you’ll see, the Council of Dads has already accomplished amazing things. Sitomer is also VP of the Wellington Wolves basketball organization. It’s a nice outlet for his charitable works.
“At the end of the day, is anyone going to say ‘He had a nice house. Or he had a nice sports car. No, they’re going to remember you by your actions,” says Sitomer.
Projects by the Council of Dads
The first project they worked on was to start a summer basketball camp for underprivileged children. NBA player Marcus Hubbard led the camp.
Then, thanks to their connection with Robin Carrier and King’s Academy, they developed a free tutoring program, which connected exceptional students at King’s Academy with struggling students and helped them in five subjects. They also provided SAT and ACT prep classes.
Around Thanksgiving time, they have worked with an agency in Boynton Beach called The Soup Kitchen, located on the Caridad Center campus. The Council of Dads collected canned food, pasta, diapers, baby wipes and other essentials. “We need to remember that our happiest days are other people’s saddest days,” says Sitomer. Feeding almost 1,000 people a day, the Soup Kitchen has reported that the percentage of young children in need is growing exponentially fast.
Also every year the Council of Dads presents a scholar/ athlete award for a deserving athlete with a 4.0 grade point average. The award is named after the Haitian student Moltere Charles Junior, who was a victim of gun violence.
Meanwhile, the Council of Dads wanted to take action after Hurricane Dorian devastated Abacoa in the Bahamas. Sitomer, who lived in the Bahamas for more than 20 years, says, “I personally brought over five cargo planes filled with supplies, generators, clothing, First Aid kits, tents and food. And we have two 40-foot trailers of donations.” More items will be sent over to the Bahamas, next time by ship instead of plane. They also have two trailers of roofing supplies there now, just waiting to be utilized. “We paid for the planes ourselves,” says Sitomer. The first plane he went in was built in 1957. He stayed in a tent just three days after the hurricane had hit. It was a risky business, but Sitomer wanted to personally hand out the supplies to oversee the distribution of them. On three of the plane trips, he had to sit in the cargo section as there was no room in the front of the plane beside the pilot.
I asked where all the supplies came from. “We reached out to our Wellington Wolves organization and the response was amazing.” Sitomer lives in Olympia in Wellington and also had a great response from neighbors there. “We probably had about 500 families constantly dropping items off.” In just 72 hours, approximately 50 generators were donated.
In March (before the stay-at-home orders for COVID-19), they worked with an organization called In Jacob’s Shoes. The goal was to collect 2,000 pairs of shoes, but they exceeded the goal and collected 3,563 pairs of shoes. In the 11-year history of In Jacob’s Shoes, it was the largest donation from a single event. “The response we got from the community was outstanding!” says Sitomer.
This year, with COVID-19 affecting everything, they will offer Live Zoom tutoring in Math and Science. This will be done, thanks to Juniors and Seniors at King’s Academy. “I’m tongue-tied at their professionalism and attitude,” says Sitomer.
As we approach the fall, their new goal will be to collect 500 backpacks, filled with school supplies for kids in need. This will also be done in conjunction with In Jacob’s Shoes.
When Sitomer stumbled upon In Jacob’s Shoes, he knew it was a good fit for their efforts. “They personally hand out everything that’s contributed. The items only go to Florida people in need. Especially for children who are homeless, from broken homes, in orphanages and others in need.” It’s a world-class system. They take in the gently used footwear and by the time it goes through their processing, the footwear is like brand new. They often set up a shoe store and let the children go around shopping for their new shoes. “Shoes are very much connected to one’s dignity,” asserts Sitomer. “Often in school, shoes can be the basis of bullying.”
John Sitomer’s Health Journey and Attitude
John Sitomer is not a stranger to illness. He was given about 3 or 4 extra years so far that he didn’t know he had. “I’m right at the point now when the best scenario said that my time would be up,” he says. “I’m just waiting for a reversal of the leukemia that I have.” He did a trial basis with three different drugs from Germany. But now his body is immune to those drugs. “Right now I’m just doing as much as I can. I get checked every month. Cancer runs through my family. I exercise a lot and stay fit.”
He speaks to a lot of cancer patients and finds that attitude is everything. “Keeping positive. It’s more important than the medicine,” says Sitomer. He’s inspired by both the heroic athlete Jim Valvano and TV news reporter Robin Roberts. Roberts once said, after she survived her bout with cancer, “Make your mess your message.” In other words, when you’re going through something, don’t hide it – make it your message.
“I’m very proud of my cancer. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I taste things, smell things, feel things more so than anyone else I know . . . I even go to chemo treatments and hold people’s hands. We shouldn’t shy away from things that we’re going through. Always let people know your story – you could help them.”
John’s wife along with a good friend were inspired to write a letter to Ellen DeGeneres about John’s many efforts and his positive attitude. “They haven’t heard back yet,” says Sitomer. “But I love what Ellen is doing. Her talent is kindness.”
Family Life and Basketball
Sitomer and his wife Dina have been married for 32 years. They were married in the Bahamas and lived there until their son was 4 years old. After getting ill, Sitomer moved his family to the U.S. – to Wellington, Florida. His son, who is now 16 years, “had no choice but to play every sport.” John insisted on it. His son started playing basketball for the Wellington Wolves in second grade. “It’s 50% what you do on the court and the rest is what you do off the court,” explains Sitomer. In addition to being a good basketball player, he contends that you need to be a good student and a good citizen.
Basketball, he says, is truly a team sport. “It’s magical. To be a good basketball player, it’s almost like being a ballerina. You have to be graceful, coordinated and have eye-hand coordination. Nothing happens in basketball unless you are like one with your team.”
Sitomer is an optimist at heart. “People are not born to do bad things,” he says. “They are usually a product of their environment. You have to give them a vehicle for giving and doing well. I found almost in every case – if you tell someone what the mission is and ask them to pitch in, they never say no.” The shoe drive, for example, was “unbelievable” and people just needed the vehicle to do something good.
He’s also quite humble. He says that he’s just one of nine members on the Council. “And everyone of them is smarter than I am.”
Next Steps for the Council of Dads
The ultimate game plan, according to Sitomer, is to take this formula for The Council of Dads and pinpoint other communities who could utilize this throughout the country.
And right now, with COVID-19, he says they are formulating how to best do Zoom tutoring. In the summer, they will collect backpacks and school supplies for kids in need. They will continue with their Bahamas relief efforts too. “Around the world, if there’s a need and if we find we can have a small input, we’ll jump to it,” he says. They also have a mentoring program for young people. It’s a one-on-one chance to take someone out to eat and mentor them at the same time, “nourishing them in two ways.” There’s a lot of good that they can do. And while some of these things are on hold right now, they haven’t stopped making plans for good.
Contact John Sitomer with questions or donations: [email protected]