Tom and Diane Palmeri first met at a remote hospital in the mountains of South Vietnam in 1968. Tom was the administrator when Diane Gronstal came to work there as a nurse. They were married in 1969 and lived near Philadelphia for the next few years where they were foster parents for teenagers. During that period some friends founded a small organization to help malnourished children in Vietnam. And so, in September of 1973, Tom and Diane left for Saigon to open and operate a live-in-center for malnourished children. Within one year they had added a four-story apartment building and were caring for one hundred children. And when a year and a half had passed, they found themselves leaving for the Philippines on one of the last commercial flights out of Saigon. Within a month the communists took control and the organization that had sent them there no longer existed.
When Tom and Diane left Saigon, they went to Cagayan de Oro City where Tom had arranged to teach Philosophy at Xavier University. Tom had known from an earlier stay in the Philippines that the needs there were endless and that an enormous amount of good could be done with comparatively few U.S. dollars. They found that malnutrition in the Philippines was even worse than it had been in Vietnam though there was far less infant abandonment. They rented a small house and began feeding some of the children in the neighborhood. Then they took in an abandoned baby for foster care. And on it went.
On Camiguin Island, where Tom and Diane moved in 1983,
Family To Family provides school supplies
to one thousand and fifty
children in thirty public elementary schools each year.
Complete supplies are delivered each June, when the school year starts,
and additional supplies of paper, pens, and pencils are delivered monthly .
After providing foster care to a total of seventy children over a period of 37 years, they discontinued this service when the seventieth child departed with his adoptive family in early, 2013.
For twenty years they operated an elementary level boarding school and farm on ten acres of land in the hills for children who were drop outs or who had never been to school and were truly destitute. This project was discontinued at the end of the school year in March, 2012 due to a dwindling number of students and Tomís diagnosis of Accute Myelogenous Leukemia.
But then, in 2013 Family To Family began a new program providing cash assistance, given out three times a year, to indigent high school students. As of the start of the 2014 school year, one hundred eighty high school students will be receiving assistance. At the boarding school, they also accepted deaf students and hired and trained sign language teachers so that the deaf students could also be taught the regular elementary curriculum. By the time the boarding school closed, several public schools on the island had SPED (Special Education) classes and so some of the deaf students enrolled there. Those who couldnít afford the transportation to the SPED schools were given money each month to get to and from school. Family To Family continues to provide such assistance to newly identified deaf children.
Starting in 1986, and to the present, Family To Family has continuously attempted to identify, diagnose, and assist every child with a physical handicap. This assistance has ranged from the simple provision of eyeglasses to transportation to a major city on the mainland and financial aid for multiple surgery for children with cleft lip and palate, multiple casting and special shoes for children with club feet, transportation to Special Education classes for children who are blind, deaf, have cerebral palsey, or are slow learners and transportation to a free rehab center for children with delayed physical development and cerebral palsey. Thousands have received such assistance. Diane Palmeri continues to supervise and direct all of these services .
Tom and Diane have eight children of their own, six of whom are adopted. Diane gave birth to the oldest, Paul, two years before they went to Saigon and to Erlinda in 1979. The two oldest of the adopted children are Chris and Marie, both Vietnamese. Next are Jay, Monica, Edmund, and John, all Filipino. Many things have changed over the past 40 years. The eight children have all grown up and gone to the U.S. Tom passed away on October 28, 2012 after a ten month battle with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. But the work that was once just a dream still goes on. And not everything changes. When Marie was just an infant and they first decided to adopt her in Saigon, someone in the States wrote that he was not surprised after having seen the loving way Tom held her in a picture. Tomís reply was that it must be hard for people at a distance to realize but that was the way he and Diane held all the babies.
Board of Directors:
Diane E. Palmeri, R.N., President and Board Member
Antonio A. Maestrado, Board Member
Erlinda J. Maestrado, R.N., Secretary and Board Member
Contributions should be payable to "Family to Family, Inc." and mailed to:
Family to Family, Inc.
c/o Availa Bank
126 W 6th St.
Carroll IA 51401-2341