Project Purple keeps on running

Beacon Falls resident Dino Verrelli started Project Purple, a non-profit organization, in September 2010 to raise money for pancreatic cancer research by running half-marathons to honor his father, who died from the disease last year. Over the past two years, the organization has grown at a sprinter’s pace. –LUKE MARSHALL

BEACON FALLS — When Dino Verrelli goes for a run, he does it with a purpose.

Verrelli, of Beacon Falls, is the founder of Project Purple, a non-profit organization which began in September 2010 that raises money for the research, awareness, and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

In June of 2011, Verrelli set off to run 13 half-marathons in 13 months, a feat that he accomplished earlier this year.

Verrelli said that, since beginning Project Purple, he has run 15 half-marathons, the Boston Marathon, and countless 5Ks.

“I think I did over 1,800 miles of training, not including races, in the last year,” Verrelli said.

Having run that many miles has helped pay off as far as Project Purple is concerned. The organization has raised over $50,000 in its first year or existence, which has been donated to area organizations.

Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport received $10,000 towards the SWIM Center for Cancer Care, which helps cancer survivors. The money was earmarked for families in need with pancreatic cancer.

Project Purple will also host a symposium in November at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

“One of the big things is really the awareness, and that symposium is going to be for general practitioners and doctors, talking about pancreatic cancer, recognizing the symptoms and getting people to the right doctors. That’s a big thing, just the awareness factor,” Verrelli said.

Griffin Hospital in Derby has received $5,000 from Project Purple towards patient aid as well.

Project Purple started as a personal quest for Verrelli. His father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2008 and after major surgery and a round of chemotherapy, he went into remission. Just as his family thought he was out of the woods, Verrelli’s father was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer last year and died.

These days, however, running to raise money is only one of the many things that Verrelli does with Project Purple.

“We’ve evolved,” Verrelli explained.

Project Purple has created care packages that they send to people suffering from pancreatic cancer. These care packages include a backpack, wristband with Project Purple’s logo, a winter cap, a fleece blanket, and a scarf.

Verrelli said he put so many warm items in the care package because people going through chemotherapy generally feel cold.

“It’s just a little some and I think more so than anything, what it has really done is given people hope,” Verrelli said. “It’s important that people know there’s an organization out there fighting for them and giving them the will to keep fighting and get through the treatments … so they can get stronger and healthier. That’s really what it’s about, to let them know we’re here for them.”

Verrelli said he has sent these care packages as far as Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, and California. He wants people fighting pancreatic cancer to know that, no matter where they are, Project Purple is there to support them.

Project Purple has also rolled out a scholarship program to give assistance to families and students that have been touched by this disease.

“With people that are touched by this cancer, it does not discriminate age, sex, race. What I have found that a lot of people that have been hit with this are younger and have younger kids or there are family members that are caring for their dads or moms or grandparents. They’re taking breaks out of their lives or going to school. So we established a scholarship program,” Verrelli said.

The scholarship program began in June, which meant that the earliest that the organization could give out money was for the winter semester. They plan on continuing to give money for each semester to help students in need.

Another way that Project Purple plans to help people is by offering patient financial aid.

Verrelli had an idea for this after he worked with the Andruzzi Foundation and saw the how it helped the patients. He also saw the struggles that patients and families were going through as he sent out the care packages.

“Our goal is to raise awareness, help people and help find a cure. So it’s just another component of what we’re doing,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli said that, in working with Project Purple, there has not been a week that has gone by where he did not meet another person with pancreatic cancer, and many of those people were in financial need.

Project Purple has already assisted one family financially. The Botolino family of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida was affected by pancreatic cancer when Denali Botolino contracted and later passed away from the disease. Denali was 11 years old at the time of his death.

Verrelli said Project Purple helped the family pay rent for at least six months since they lost their house while caring for Denali.

“Unfortunately they lost their son. Nothing is ever going to bring him back. Their life is going to be changed forever and it’s going to take them a long time to pick up the pieces, and they have nothing. The father was a contractor and, not only did he have the economy that soured, he had caring for a loved one, his son, 24-7,” Verrelli said.

With the financial aid, the organization can help people, like the Botolino family, who have found themselves in financial woes while caring for a loved one suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Verrelli knows that running and helping people who suffer from pancreatic cancer alone will not get the word out the way he wants to. That is why, in March, Project Purple went down to Washington, DC to lobby.

All of Connecticut’s congressmen signed on to a bill that would raise awareness about pancreatic cancer.

“The interesting thing about the bill is that it doesn’t ask for any money … what it does ask for is a plan,” Verrelli said. “It asks for the government to put together a plan on how to attack pancreatic cancer in the long term. Then it’s really up to the appropriations committees to decide the funding amounts.”

The organization still sticks to its running roots as its main way of campaigning and fundraising, however.

Project Purple was one of the 300 charities chosen to be represented at the New York Marathon in 2011.

The New York Marathon chooses the charities that run not just by their charitable status, but also whether they have done running events before. Since Project Purple was based around running, it was accepted into the New York Marathon.

Project Purple will be one of the 300 charities to run in the New York Marathon again this year as Project Purple continues to grow.

“We started this thing being this local little charity and it’s just blossomed and exploded,” Verrelli said