The loss of an only child is devastating and in order for Claire to continue with her life, she had to keep her daugher Melissa's spirit alive. The foundation started small offering scholarships to students in Kinnelon where Melissa lived and Nutley, where Melissa went to school. As time passed, the scholarships were offered to students in other schools throughout New Jersey.
In 2014, Claire suggested that the organization extend its help to families with special needs children and so the addition became part of the plan. Claire worked in the pharmaceutical industry as a Senior Vice President, General Manager, consultant and several other capacities. She started the NJ Chapter for Dystonia in 1990 and played a major role in raising well over $1,000,000 for the cause. She also held the position of President of the national foundation for six years, and served on the National Organization for Rare Disorders and Student and Youth Travel Association Boards. She is retired and now devotes her time to the Melissa's Hope Foundation.
GAIL BEYER, RN BSN, President
Gail is currently the President of the Melissa's Hope Foundation. She has been an active Board member for a number of years and has participated in many fundraising events. Gail is continuing to expand her expertise in pursuit of an MSN in Education. She has been a nurse for 36 years with a broad background in various Clinical and Leadership roles. Gail has served on numerous Advisory Boards, works as an Organization Staff Educator for a hospital system and HCCC as a Skills Instructor. She loves nursing and continues to teach with the hopes of having a positive impact on the lives of future nurses. Gail was Melissa's Home Care nurse since 1986 and developed a strong bond with her. Melissa would call Gail her "forever friend." Melissa and her family had become part of Gail's family. She continues to be part of the Centrella family and enjoys traveling with them and promulgating Melissa's message by helping others!
SALVATORE BALSAMO, Vice President
I am a Radcliffe School Alumni, Franklin Middle School Alumni and Nutley High School Alumni, just like Melissa. I first met Melissa when I was in second grade and she was a dear friend of mine for the rest of her life. Throughout our friendship Melissa was an encouraging and supportive force in my life. I had her support and confidence as I went on to graduate from Rutgers College and began my graduate studies at Montclair State in order to become a teacher. Regretfully, Melissa passed before I became a teacher, however her life and her examples of love and hope are key drivers in my outlook as an educator. I have two boys and an amazing wife. Together we make sure that the boys know how big a part of our life Melissa was and work to make sure they understand the profound inspiration she was, not just to us but to so many others. I am proud to be a part of Melissa’s Hope for the past 15 years and the work that the organization has taken on. Melissa was a very important part of my life and it is an honor to be a part of a group to keep her memory alive. As much and as often as I can, I remind recipients of what it is that we do this for: Melissa was one with many needs, but put the needs of others ahead of herself. She wanted for everyone else before herself. The only thing she asked for was to be treated with the dignity and respect that she deserved through the many treatments she endured. It is my pleasure and honor to serve to keep that “Hope” alive.
LYNN IMPERIALE, Treasurer
I had the pleasure of having Melissa as my first student in my career as an instructional aide in the Nutley School district where I served for 25 years. Her profound depths of knowledge, emotion, and intuition she shared with the world, gave us all a tremendous gift that helps carry on her “hopes” for others to have a better future. I began working in programs to service others in the Nutley Junior Women’s Club where I served as President. I’ve humbly received the Outstanding Young Woman’s Award from the Jaycees in 1992 working with the town and local hospitals to help raise funds and awareness for children with special needs. I’ve served on boards with Cerebral Palsy, American Cancer Society, and Dystonia. Melissa was a driving force of unparalleled spirit who graced us with her beauty and humility. Her foundation was created to help others who seek the medical profession. Melissa’s legacy will continue to inspire and enrich those who understand that a life of service is a life well lived.
MANUEL BOADO, Secretary
Manuel Boado has been an active Board Member since 2004 while most recently serving as Board Secretary. He first met Melissa when she was seven years old as the daughter of a longtime workplace friend. Manuel followed Melissa’s difficult and short life until she left us when she was 25 years old. Manuel became a business entrepreneur yet maintained a strong connection to the Centrella family. He is a retired Human Resources executive with experience in Spain and the United States. Over the years, he and his wife shared many good times with Melissa and her family. It was Melissa's generosity and passion for other people in need, that prompted Manuel to help Claire carry on her daughter's message and encourage others to share in her sense of goodwill and concern for those less fortunate through the Melissa's Hope Foundation.
PAULA DEBONA, Board Member
I am an attorney and I met Melissa’s parents, August and Claire Centrella, in that role. I have been inspired by the stories told by those who knew and loved Melissa about her selfless acts of kindness and concern for others. Not only was she brave in facing her own ordeal but she was more concerned about the lives of those she loved and strangers who suffered from disease and adversity. I support the mission of the foundation to encourage and support the education of our young people who seek to make a difference through the medical profession.
I serve as legal counsel to the foundation.
DEBRA FERRAIOLO, DMD, Board Member
My name is Debra Ferraiolo. I am a dentist in private practice as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU College of Dentistry. It is in the realm of private practice where I met the Centrella family many years ago. I feel it is always a privilege when someone asks you to care for them but I found it especially so with Melissa. She was a strong woman who persevered under the most challenging situation. I am forever reminded of her strength and her ability to be pleasant and make everyone around her laugh and smile, even on the worst of days. Some people are in our lives for a short time but the impact they make on us is unimaginable. I am also inspired by all of Claire’s time and effort to continue Melissa’s dream, along with the rest of the Board. I am honored that Claire has allowed me to be a part of it.
Mariela Mitre, MD, PhD was one of the recipients of Melissa's Hope scholarships in 2006. She graduated from Nutley High School and then received a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering with the highest honors from the Cooper Union. She went on to pursue her medical education and doctorate degree at the New York University School of Medicine studying molecular biology. She is starting her dermatology residency training at the Presbyterian Hospital - Weill Cornell Medical Center, where she is looking forward to providing excellent patient care and continuing her scholarly inquiries. Mariela and her physician husband, Dennis Villegas, also coincidentally a 2006 Melissa's Hope scholarship recipient, have 2 young boys that keep them busy. Though unfortunately she never met Melissa, Mariela has always been grateful for the assistance through the foundation scholarship and she is looking forward to helping carry out Melissa's dream.
BLAKE O'NEILL, Board Member
I never had the pleasure of meeting Melissa. She sounded like a very dear and special person. In fact, I have felt her giving spirit and her love of people shine onward through her wonderful and mother, Claire. Melissa is an inspiration to all of us. When life throws me a challenging curveball, I think about the dignity and grace Melissa showed during her illness as inspiration. We can all learn a little something from Melissa!
I’ve know Claire for 10+ years and have heard her name spoken with admiration since my teenage years as she was a key employee for my Dad’s company Clarke-O’Neill. I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my career with a focus in healthcare marketing and services. I have served on the board of directors at Melissa’s Hope since 2016
JUDY POST, Board Member
Judy Post has been a businesswoman for 45 years. She also performs as professional Clown and children’s entertainer. Judy was honored to present for the children with Dystonia in Chicago. Sadly, she never met Melissa, however; when her mom and dad moved into the same development she quickly got to appreciate Melissa’s trials and tribulations. Through Claire’s vision and her dedication to such a worthy cause Judy felt a personal obligation to become involved with the fundraisers intended to provide scholarships to those seeking an education in a medical field, now known as Melissa’s Hope. Each year, she has seen the numbers grow with all the funds raised and donations going to scholarships and to children in need of equipment not covered by insurance or which families could not afford. Judy remains truly proud to be affiliated with this fine organization.
EMANUELE TRIGGIANO, JR., Board Member
As my niece, Melissa’s well-being was always a concern of the entire family. I have always believed that next to one’s health their education is their most important asset. The Melissa Foundation gave me an opportunity to share her strength, fortitude, and magnanimity. Personally, I have been part of the educational community for several decades as a Math Teacher, Coach, Supervisor, Director of Technology, Principal and Superintendent. I remain passionate about my chosen career and continue to maintain a genuine interest in those who teach and those who are being taught. I have always believed that the greatest rewards one can receive, is gotten through giving. Over the years, it has been a pleasure for me to help provide those in need with some degree of support as they move forward through their educational endeavors.
EMANUELE TRIGGIANO III, Board Member
Manny has been an active board member since 2016, helping launch our annual golf outing since 2012.He is currently COO of Theorem, Inc., a digital media consultancy and management service provider. Previously spent 20+ years at IMS HEALTH, in roles of increasing global responsibility related to client services, operations, and consulting services.Manny enjoys coaching youth sports, and served on his town’s baseball and softball league's board for 7+ years.Most of all he enjoys time with friends and family, especially his wife and two high school aged children.Melissa was Manny’s cousin, and he was able to see first hand how she took on each difficult day in her short life with a selflessness that we all seek to embody in all the decisions we make for the foundation.He is proud of the work we do for Melissa’s Hope and knows Melissa would be as well.