June 8, Bergen County, New Jersey: A freshman Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA) student was so moved by the recent tragic Paramus bus accident she decided to do something meaningful to support the victims and families. Freshman Vanessa Pecora approached Principal Jason Schlereth and asked if students could paint Hearts of Hope to be given as gifts to those closely impacted by the bus tragedy.

The school was immediately supportive of this “Hearts of Hope for Paramus” initiative and Vanessa's good friend and fellow freshman Madison DeStefano joined her as co-leader. Within days, they arranged to partner with Hearts of Hope to receive materials. Funding was made possible through CARE, the school's Christian Service organization and on May 29 and 30, approximately 75 Immaculate Heart Academy students and staff created and painted 165 beautiful Hearts of Hope, each with an individual message of love and courage.

On June 4, Hearts of Hope were delivered to East Brook Middle School in Paramus, New Jersey where school principal, Mr. Thomas LoBue organized the distribution to the 5th-grade students and their teachers who were so close to the bus tragedy.

Vanessa Pecora was introduced to Hearts of Hope in 2014 when her mother, Jill, was presented a Heart of Hope as a result of her battle with breast cancer. Jill Pecora, coincidentally an English teacher at IHA, was intrigued by the program and desired to “pay-it-forward” herself.  She reached out to Hearts of Hope volunteer Alice Nagy who happened to be one of her infusion nurses at Valley Hospital and the Hearts of Hope North Jersey President. Soon, Nagy helped arrange for Jill's daughter to paint hearts as part of her Girl Scout Troop Silver project. After the scout project was completed, Vanessa continued on her own to paint hearts for the hospital infusion center. When she and her mother were watching the events from the bus tragedy unfold on television, Vanessa immediately knew how to do her part in comforting the victims.

Vanessa says that she knew something had to be done to help her neighbors in Paramus. “Hearts of Hope immediately came to mind because I know first-hand how a simple heart can bring comfort to someone in crisis,” she says. “I thought a Heart of Hope from 'The Heart' would capture IHA's mission while spreading compassion.”

An IHA Hearts of Hope chapter has now been initiated, and Vanessa hopes the chapter will allow IHA students to reach as many populations in need as possible. “My co-group leader, Madison, and I have already been brainstorming ideas for next year,” she says. “We want to have a kickoff event in September right at the start of the school year, and plan to do monthly painting events. We would like to deliver hearts to various groups including the sick, the poor, and those in crisis. The possibilities are endless.”

Immaculate Heart Academy was founded in 1960 as the first regional high school for girls in the Archdiocese of Newark. Its mission both at the time of foundation and today is to provide quality Catholic education to young women in an atmosphere characterized by respect for the individual, Christian community, and a high level of family involvement. IHA is a college preparatory high school for young women; a strong theme throughout the curriculum and extracurricular activities is the development of the special gifts that women can bring to society.

“Our hearts are a simple and loving way to bring encouragement to people and communities who have endured so much,” explains Judy Pedersen, Executive Director and Founder, “they are small, but powerful gifts from the heart.

For more information about Immaculate Heart Academy contact Tara Hopfenspirger, Director of Communications

at (201)-445-6800, ext. 13 or email her at thopfenspirger@ihanj.com.

For weeks leading up to the April 12 delivery of more than 2000 Hearts of Hope, hundreds of volunteers all across the country were painting hearts while the Leadership Team prepared for the journey to Stoneman Douglas High School to deliver these individual messages of love, compassion and hope. There were countless efforts, large and small from police stations, universities, elementary schools, Paint with A Purpose events and many more, sending a huge message of hope to the families and communities in Parkland who were so devastated by the horrific events of February 14th. Tremendous coordination and planning resulted in an emotionally charged special day. Everyone experienced the full gamut of the pain that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has experienced. People laughed, cried, hugged and embraced throughout the delivery process. Amazing people stepped forward everywhere. The Leadership Team made a brief visit to the Broward County Sheriff's Department and expressed their thoughts and appreciation to the First Responders. They were grateful they were included in the visit visit and were so happy to receive the hearts.  Physically, it was the second largest delivery of Hearts of Hope in the foundation's 17 year history second only to the Sandy Hook event and this delivery sent the total number of hearts delivered to 91,402!

This effort by The Hearts of Hope Foundation and its supporting chapters in Newtown, CT, Stratford, CT and North Jersey, symbolized the support and love to the faculty, students and families of all who were and still are involved in this tragedy. May we all seize the moment and just be good to each other. Our world will be a much better place.

More than 2000 Hearts of Hope delivered to Stoneman Douglas High School

Efforts of hundreds bring total hearts delivered to 91,402!

The photos below are just a tiny sampling of volunteers around the country who participate in our Movement of Hope. It is a special group of caring people.  To learn how you can get involved, send us an email at info@ourheartsofhope.org and we will be pleased to get back to you.

Immaculate Heart Academy student creates the perfect pay it forward story for victims of tragic Paramus bus accident

Immaculate Heart Academy students Madison DeStefano (l) and Vanessa Pecora present East Brook Middle School Principal Tom LoBue with several of the 165 Hearts of Hope created by students and staff of IHA.

Some of the 165 Hearts of Hope delivered to the families and victims of the Paramus bus tragedy

Photos of some of the staff and students painting Hearts of Hope on May 29 and May 30 at Immaculate Heart Academy

Immaculate Heart Academy English Department Chairperson Jill Pecora and Hearts of Hope Board Member Terry Becker


Click to read about our recent delivery of 2000 Hearts of Hope to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida