This is the Alfred Fiume Foundation
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Joanne and Alyssa Fiume
The Alfred Fiume Foundation, a 501 c3 organization, was created in 2016 after Dr. Alfred Fiume’s untimely death in July of 2015. Alfred, better known as Fred, served in the Army National Guard for nearly twenty years. He was a dentist and an active community member. The Foundation was created by his family to continue supporting causes that Fred believed in and to further enhance the community that he loved. This is Rutherford spoke to Fred’s widow, Joanne Fiume, and his daughter, Alyssa about Fred, the Foundation, and a new program that they have recently introduced through the Foundation.
TIR: Tell us more about Fred.
Joanne: Fred was an amazing husband and father. His smile could light up a room and he always had a smile on his face. His big belly laugh was so contagious you couldn’t help but laugh just because he was! Gregarious and loud were some of his biggest traits! He never said NO to anyone, you needed help, call him and he’ll be there. He loved doing anything with his kids, played Santa for years at school and even military events, coached tee-ball, basketball, was a band dad, etc. He was a member of the Rutherford Board of Education for 6 years, PER of Rutherford Elks for 20 years, and Lyndhurst Unico member for 18 years. He was a retired Lt. Col of the NJ ARMY NATIONAL GUARD and served in Iraq and numerous peacekeeping missions in his eighteen-year career with the military, all while working, volunteering, being a dad and husband. We had some great family times and he is missed beyond measure.
Alyssa: My dad was the biggest and loudest person in the room most of the time. You could hear him coming a mile away. He was a part of so many things including being a local dentist, a member of the Board of Education and Elks, and serving in the Army National Guard. He loved his family and would do anything for anyone. He always jumped at the chance to coach us in sports and even participated in dance recitals with me. I miss him very, very much!
TIR: Why did you both want to create the Alfred Fiume Foundation?
Joanne: Creating this foundation was very important to me. Not only was it to give back to others as Fred instilled in our children, but I approached it as a way to speak up about mental illness. I want others to understand that they are not alone and there is no shame in having a mental illness. At his wake, I wrote a letter that was posted about his illness and cause of death. For me, it was never anything to be ashamed of. It is a disease just like any other. Also in the spirit of giving to others, we created the scholarship program. We started with one scholarship for the first three years and have now added a military scholarship as well to honor the memory of his military service.
Alyssa: My Dad loved volunteering and community so this is something that we wanted to start to embrace his memory with something he loved. Giving back is something he instilled in me and we wanted to be able to give to others through this foundation. I think this shows that we also choose to remember my father for the way that he lived, not the way that he died.
TIR: What are your goals with the Foundation?
Joanne: I think our goal is the same. Believe it or not, there are still insurance companies that do not pay for mental illness/wellness treatments and there are still therapists who do not accept insurance (because those that pay, it’s a small percentage to the fee costs). Starting our Therapeutic Assistance Program will help to bridge the gap. We are also one of a small group of organizations to host International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day each November. This is a day where those of us who lost family/friends to suicide can come together for a day of honoring, remembrance and healing, and Alyssa was asked to be on the state committee this past year for a virtual day.
Alyssa: Mental Health and Wellness Awareness is my most important thing. Trying to help others obtain the resources whether that be a resource we’ve created or been involved with or donating to mental wellness causes that create and finance other resources (ie. National Alliance on Mental Illness and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)
TIR: How have you seen the work you do with the foundation benefit others?
Joanne: Slowly we are starting to see how it is helping. We have had two people in therapy, one has received treatment and has been doing well, one is currently still in treatment but working hard and is making progress. It is gratifying to know that without the financial resources we were able to provide, they probably would not have gotten the help they needed.
Alyssa: With the pandemic, we were also able to financially support the Survivors After Suicide Loss group that I facilitate. Many people come to our group after losing a loved one to suicide and with the pandemic, we could not meet in person. The foundation has funded Zoom for the past fifteen months and the group attendees are so grateful for that. If we did not do that, we wouldn’t have been able to meet at all. This group was a savior for me after my dad died, and I wouldn’t have felt right if I couldn’t at least try to keep it going, especially since we have had many new attendees over the pandemic. It really goes to show you how much the pandemic has affected mental health too and how hard grief is, not to mention adding isolation and restrictions on top of that.
TIR: Do you have an upcoming event? If so, can you tell us more about it and provide the flyer?
Joanne: Covid has made fundraising quite difficult this past year as we lost two of our beefsteaks, but we are planning our annual beefsteak for (hopefully) October 2021 and then bring it back to our usual April (which is Fred’s birthday month) in 2022. Currently, we will be running a clothing drive at the end of June to bring in some funds. The company accepts much more than just clothes, so please feel free to contact us if there’s something you’re unsure about donating.
TIR: How do the funds you raise help support others in the community?
Alyssa: A campership was created in Dad’s memory at Elks Camp Moore, which is a camp for individuals with special needs. He loved the Elks and was a very active member prior to his death. The Alfred M. Fiume Foundation Scholarship was established in 2016 for a Senior of Rutherford High School pursuing a dental, medical, or mental wellness career. In 2019, the Lieutenant Colonel Fiume Military Scholarship was established for a Rutherford High School Senior entering the military. The Therapeutic Assistance program is one of our bigger endeavors as well.
Joanne: Most of our funds raised go directly back to our community in some way. As Alyssa mentioned, our scholarship program supports local RHS students, Rutherford Elks, Relay for Life of Clifton, and Rutherford. Our Therapeutic Assistance Program is open to anyone (Rutherford area or not) who needs help.
TIR: Can you tell us more about your new Therapeutic Assistance Program?
Alyssa: The Therapeutic Assistance Program was established to assist individuals in need of financial support for mental wellness services, such as therapy or psychiatry evaluations. We know that finances can create a huge roadblock for people to seek these services. It is so unfair that this can become the reason that people cannot get the help that they want or live in emotional pain without seeing a doctor. Individuals can apply for financial assistance through the downloadable form on our website along with the provisions of the program.
Joanne: Our program offers grants to those who need financial assistance for mental illness/wellness treatment. Currently, we have a small group of therapists that we work with who offer their services to our foundation at a special rate. We in turn try to find the best fit for a patient and one of our therapists. Our program offers grants to pay for therapy for those who need financial assistance be it copay or treatment cost. Our hope is that anyone who needs therapy and can’t afford it can get it. The program is really still in its infancy, but we are hoping that as we progress it will grow bigger and help those who need it most.
Applications can be found on our website: www.alfredmfiumefoundation.org. Everyone in need of treatment deserves treatment. As long as funds allow, we will not turn anyone away.
TIR: What else would you like the community to understand about Fred and the Foundation created in his name?
Joanne: First I would like to take this opportunity to say what a wonderful town the Borough of Rutherford truly is. We moved here from Jersey City 25 years ago and quickly became a part of the community. I want to thank the Rutherford community, Elks and Rutherford Police, Mayor and Council (past and present), and our amazing neighbors for all the support given to us throughout our years here. When Fred was deployed to Iraq the sendoff party from the Elks and support of our family during his deployment will never be forgotten. The continued support shown to us during the time of his death and the days that followed (and even today) was a constant reminder to our family how special a person he was! Rutherford is a much smaller town than from where we came, but everyone in this town helps and supports each other.
Second, please check out our website at www.alfredmfiumefoundation.org Our foundation is here to help and support those who need treatment. In Fred’s memory, we continue to give back to those who gave to us.
Lastly, for those who suffer from mental illness, please know you are NOT alone. There is no shame or judgement. Reach out, get the help you need. We are here to help YOU! Don’t ever give up and keep fighting!
Alyssa: I echo everything my mom has said. We’ve had so much support from this town and from our family and friends. I may never be able to “repay” the love and support but I can certainly try by being the loving and giving person that both my parents taught me to be.
Donations Accepted through FB donate or on the website through PayPal.
Therapeutic Assistance Program Application available on the website at www.alfredmfiumefoundation.org/therapeutic-assistance/