URI alumni design backpacks by veterans, for veterans

Pair helps at-risk and homeless veterans

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Blake D’Alessandro and Alexa Modero
URI alumni Brett D’Alessandro, left, and Alexa Modero, right, posing with a family who was helped by Backpacks for Life. Photo courtesy of Alexa Modero.

KINGSTON, R.I.- November 28, 2018- After leaving behind his studies and his girlfriend at the University of Rhode Island to defend our country as a member of the United States Marine Corps in Afghanistan in 2013, Brett D’Alessandro realized transitioning back into civilian life would be a daunting task.

After facing much uncertainty, but with support from his partner Alexa Modero, the two started a non-profit organization called Backpacks for Life whose mission is to provide resources for veterans who need help.

“I joined the Marines because I always knew that helping others was something I enjoyed and I wanted to make a positive impact,” D’Alessandro said. “Deployment was hard and when I got back home, I felt like I had lost my purpose. I was desperately seeking help for my personal struggles and constantly looking for a new purpose.

“After an encounter with a homeless veteran on the streets of Providence in the dead of winter, I reconfirmed to myself that I wanted to devote my life to impacting others and changing people’s lives in a positive way. The work that we do at Backpacks for Life for veterans not only helps those who are homeless and at-risk but helps me in my personal life. I’m able to help veterans through difficult times and see them through to better times which is the most rewarding feeling in the world.”

It was fitting that the couple held the organization’s first backpack giveaway event in Providence in 2014 since D’Alessandro was stationed in the city and it was where he had the powerful encounter with the homeless veteran.

Based out of D’Alessandro’s hometown in Verona, New Jersey and active in 13 states, Backpacks for Life not only provides at-risk and homeless veterans with backpacks filled with supplies and resources, the program also offers coaching and mentoring. It helps pair those at-risk or experiencing homelessness with mental health and substance abuse facilities, financial and career advisors and job and resume training. Whatever the constituents need is what Modero and D’Alessandro provide.

“Since we started the company in 2014, we have established a well rounded network of veterans service organizations to help them feel human following their transition back to civilian life,” said Modero, a native of Randolph, New Jersey. “Brett’s transition was extremely difficult on both of us. We started this organization so fewer veterans have to go through the pain and suffering that we did following their return from deployment.”

After graduating from the public relations program in the Harrington School of Communication and Media in 2014, Modero pursued a job with Sam Edelman, a popular shoe brand, while putting time in on the side at Backpacks for Life. It was not until eight months ago when she quit her job and made Backpacks for Life her sole focus.

“Brett and I had always hoped that our initiatives would make a difference, but I never imagined our non-profit being my full time job,” said Modero. “I never expected so many veterans from other states to reach out to us for help. Soon, we found ourselves shipping our backpacks to Maine, California, Rhode Island and more. The expansion happened naturally and unexpectedly but it is everything we both could have hoped for.”

Backpacks for Life’s latest project is one that Modero and D’Alessandro designed themselves based on feedback received from their constituents. They learned that many of them had their backpacks stolen or compromised in a shelter or on the street. The Bowery Pack comes complete with a lock and is durable, versatile and simple and can even be used for camping or hiking. The pair made sure to design a pack that made living in shelters or on the street easier. The Bowery Pack is made in America by veterans transitioning back into the workforce.

D’Alessandro and Modero are president and vice president respectively and work alongside a board of directors to help navigate the needs of homeless and at-risk veterans. The company relies heavily on its strong network of volunteers who help make much of their efforts possible.

Learn more about Backpacks for Life and how you can help.

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.