The inspiration behind NJ Devils’ Kyle Palmieri’s All-Star season
by Abbey Mastracco / northjersey.com
January 23, 2019
NEWARK — Kyle Palmieri is headed to San Jose this weekend for the NHL All-Star Game, and it’s a huge honor for the Montvale native to represent the Devils and the state of New Jersey.
But there’s another event in February he’s looking forward to.
On Feb. 23, it will be Palmieri doing the honoring for the active duty military and veterans of New Jersey and New York when the Kyle Palmieri Foundation hosts its inaugural military ball.
The foundation launched in August, prior to the start of the 2018-19 NHL season and prior to Palmieri’s 22-goal, 38-point first-half performance. During this time, he came to realize just how much goes into running a charity. But with the help of his fiancée, Ashlee Casper, the foundation has its first marquee event.
The Kyle Palmieri Foundation began as Squad 21, a military recognition program that worked with various groups such as Vet Tix and TAPS to bring active duty military and veterans out to games.
But with so much of his family in the military, Palmieri had bigger plans for it that he’s now seeing come to life.
“It grew into wanting to do a little more,” Palmieri said. “That started with establishing the foundation and getting things going with the event in February.”
Both of Palmieri’s sisters are involved with the military. His sister Taylor is a member of the National Guard, while his sister Tahrin’s husband, Stephen Ficchi, is an Army Ranger. A niece of his also recently enlisted in the Navy, and he has other family members either currently serving or who have served.
“It was something that was always kind of special to me,” Palmieri said. “I was always around military and had some personal connections to it, but I was always drawn to it, whether it was reading books about it or learning about different experiences. I saw firsthand what it’s like for families during a deployment.”
Palmieri watched in awe as Tahrin, who has two young kids, packed up her home several times as Stephen’s assignments have changed. Palmieri’s nearly 3-year-old niece has already lived in a handful of states, including New Jersey, where Tahrin briefly returned to be with family during one of her husband’s deployments.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old Taylor has climbed the ranks in the National Guard and is applying for medical school. A former gymnast and college rugby player, the respect and admiration Palmieri has for his sister is evident in the way he talks about her.
“She’s always been so tough,” Palmieri said. “I’m so proud of her and I know she’s proud of the work she does.”
The short-term goal of the foundation is to aid some of the smaller military groups around the region, as well as two groups important to Palmieri’s family, the Military Family Relief Assistance Program and the Service Women’s Action Network. Palmieri has helped raise money through events with the Devils, such as Military Appreciation Night, and has continued to bring groups of servicemen and women to games for private meet-and-greets. The ball will be the biggest revenue generator.
The military ball and other community events provide ways for military families to interact, helping them temporarily forget about the stressors of an overseas deployment.
The 2019 ball will benefit three specific organizations, the two aforementioned organizations and Pets for Vets.
The long-term goal is a little bigger. It’s about more than just events. Some studies estimate that as 30 percent of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars suffer from PTSD and/or depression. There is a stigma that exists in our society when it comes to mental health issues, but some would argue it’s worse in the military, where soldiers are bred to be tough.
Through the foundation, Palmieri hopes to help ease the stigma surrounding PTSD and, specifically, seeking help for it. He’s not going to shy away from the tough issues.
“It’s not a seamless transition. I don’t think a lot of them have an easy time translating back into civilian life,” Palmieri said. “It’s almost sickening to think of the stats that surround veterans and suicide and what they deal with. PTSD, coming back and being homeless, not being able to find a job, it’s incredible to think that these men and women go and serve and have trouble finding a way to live a normal life.”
New initiatives will come with time. The foundation is still in its infancy and Palmieri is excited about all of the potential. Right now, he’s gotten everything off the ground and the next step is the signature event, the ball.
“It’s a way of getting people together and shining a light on the different programs we’ve partnered with,” he said. “It’s a way to have a fun night and raise awareness and money that will go toward doing some pretty good work.”