RIDGEWOOD – When Joseph Palombo laces up his running shoes for the United Airlines NYC Half-Marathon on Sunday, he will be participating in his first competitive race.
His decision to run 13.1 miles from Central Park to Wall Street has meaning. Palombo is a junior board member with Tuesday’s Children, a non-profit serving families who suffered loss on Sept. 11, 2001, first responders and, more recently, victims of violence and terrorism nationally and internationally. With every mile he runs, he will raise funds and awareness for the organization.
However, Palombo is one of those fateful Tuesday’s children.
“Being somebody whose father died on Sept. 11, my family and I have been helped by a lot of these organizations,” said Palombo, “where they really look out for and support and care for the families who lost a loved one that day.”
Palombo was just 12 years old when he lost his father, Frank, a firefighter who served more than 20 years with FDNY Ladder Co. 105 in Brooklyn. The now 27-year-old plans to run in the memory of the man he described as a “very caring, loving” guy and father.
“He was always happy to play with us,” said Palombo, who is the third of 10 children born to Frank and Jean Palombo. “I remember playing football in the park, and him coming to my hockey games and always giving me advice.
“It’s not that he only gave his life on Sept. 11,” he added. “I think he gave his life for people around him every day of his life.”
His father’s selflessness and devotion to others reverberates through Palombo as he uses his spare time from his job as an accountant to volunteer with Tuesday’s Children.
“I got involved in October or November because I’ve always known people involved in it,” shared Palombo. “I’ve been to a couple events, but a good friend of mine, who’s also on the junior board, invited me to go [to an event] for new members and I went. I loved it.”
Tuesday’s Children, located at Rockefeller Center, was formed in the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001. Since its inception, the recovery and response organization has expanded to accommodate international families and communities impacted by terrorism and traumatic loss. One of Palombo’s favorite programs is Project COMMON BOND, which was launched in 2008 to meet those needs.
“It takes people from many different countries who have been affected by terrorist attacks and it brings them all together,” said Palombo. “They have a camp together.”
The camp focuses on global leadership activities in which participants acquire peace-building and negotiation skills, as well as collaboration in music, drama, movement and sports.
“The kids who I’ve met at COMMON BOND come together and talk to each other,” said Palombo. “And they can relate to each other on a level that maybe you can’t relate to certain kids from school because they haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced.”
And Palombo understands how important it is to find kinship with others who lost a parent that day, and not just a perished 9/11 hero.
“I guess for me, my dad was always a hero before he died,” he explained. “That’s how a lot of the kids feel.”
To Palombo, seeing his 46-year-old father on the morning of 9/11 was just like any other day in their Brooklyn household. Even when his mother picked him and his siblings up at school, and said, “There was a terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, and your dad was there,” it didn’t occur to him that his father could die.
“In my mind, nothing’s going to happen to him,” recalled Palombo. “He’s probably just saving people.”
He was not fazed until his family members and neighbors were coming over his house, stricken with worry. He went to bed that night, but awoke the next morning to hear his mother tell him that “they haven’t found him yet and nobody knows where he is.”
“There was still that uncertainty I guess for a couple days,” said Palombo. “Nobody knew if he was coming home or not, or if he was just helping people to the hospital. It was such a crazy time, but I think it really hit me the next morning, after Sept. 12, that my dad’s not coming home.”
The Palombos found solace in their family, who stayed with them at the house for an entire week.
“They were feeding us, they were taking care of us and really showed me how much people loved my mom and my dad,” he said.
His father’s colleagues would also drop by regularly, cooking the family dinner and bringing over the fire truck so the kids could play on it. The constant support they received was comforting, he said.
“I knew life goes on,” said Palombo. “It was a new normal. It was always going to be different, but I still feel my dad’s presence in my life.”
The family relocated to Ridgewood in 2006, but tragedy hit once again when Jean passed away from cancer a couple years ago. Palombo continues to put one foot forward, bearing the kind of resilience Tuesday’s Children looks to impart to families with its programs. And he is more than willing to help with that.
“I try to go to as many events as I could possibly go to,” said Palombo, already having served as a mentor to kids who need help with their resumes and finding jobs at Tuesday’s Children’s LinkedIn workshops.
He is also looking ahead at future events like Kentucky Derby Day and Rise Up Downtown, a commemorative gala held during the weekend of 9/11 in downtown New York to benefit Tuesday’s Children. But on his plate right now is getting through his first half-marathon, which he will be running with three other Tuesday’s Children endurance team members. He hopes his family will be there early in the morning, cheering him on.
“I’m going to try to get them to wake up,” he said with a laugh. “They’re heavy sleepers.”
Taking after his father, Palombo has never been a big runner. But his desire to raise funds for Tuesday’s Children — Team Tuesday’s has raised $900,000 in endurance fundraising since it was founded — has made him sign up for the Berlin Marathon in September. It’s his way of giving back to organizations that helped him cope and “become who I am today,” he said.
“It’s something that I think I benefitted from,” said Palombo. “And I’m happy to, at this point in my life, let people receive what I’ve received.”
His parents would certainly be proud.