Story by Mike May | Photo by Frank Koester
In an odd way, the Wellington community should be thankful that John Sitomer has been diagnosed with cancer on four occasions since 1998 — and even more thankful that he has continued to beat the disease.
Back in 2008, Sitomer, his wife Dina and their son were living in the Bahamas when John was then diagnosed with leukemia, after overcoming testicular cancer in 1998. His doctor encouraged them to return to the U.S. for his treatment. His future looked bleak. Of all places, the Sitomers moved to Wellington.
Within seven years, he was cancer-free. Then, he started networking in his new community. In 2015, Sitomer, now 68, recalled reading the book The Council of Dads. He realized that the story, where a man battling cancer finds mentors for his children, could be replicated in Wellington.
Sitomer knew more than 30 men who would be perfect candidates for Wellington’s Council of Dads, which would be affiliated with the Wellington Wolves travel basketball organization. After meeting with the first 10 people on his list, each one agreed to serve on the new Council of Dads.
“Each man said yes and admitted that they were looking for a way to give back to the community,” said Sitomer, who has served on the Wellington Wolves’ board of directors for eight years.
The target audience for the Council of Dads would be the boys and girls affiliated with the Wellington Wolves and their siblings. While the players are talented athletes, many needed help with their academic studies. That’s where the expertise of the Council of Dads fills a void.
In addition to Sitomer, the Council of Dads roster featured many outstanding local leaders: Gerry Stumm, Howard Eisenberg, Grant Johnson, Rafi Wynn, David Kane, Dr. Jim Shecter, Dr. Gordon Johnson, Capt. Peter Smith, Jeff Sitomer and Wellington Wolves President Chris Fratalia.
The Council of Dads concept has been so successful that it has been expanded to include local high school students who are members of the National Honor Society as paid tutors. The Wellington branch library provides space for the students and their tutors to work after school, while the Council of Dads pays the tutors and provides snacks.
“We’ve been able to raise grades from Ds and Fs to As and Bs,” Sitomer said. “Our tutors teach seven different subjects for students from the fifth to the 11th grade. We even provide tutoring in Spanish. At the end of the school year, we recognize students who have GPAs of at least 3.0 with the Honor Roll Award and students with a GPA of 4.0 or higher with the Top Gun Award.”
Sitomer and the Council of Dads utilize the Wellington Wolves’ annual March Madness youth basketball tournament as a venue to collect new or slightly used shoes for In Jacob’s Shoes, a nonprofit that gathers, disinfects and distributes shoes to needy children. Since 2021, 8,777 pairs of shoes have been collected during Wellington’s March Madness event.
Also, after Hurricane Dorian slammed the Bahamas in 2019, Sitomer and the Council of Dads organization oversaw the collection and distribution of hurricane relief supplies. Sitomer helped coordinate six different cargo flights to the Bahamas. Sitomer was on board each flight to make sure that the supplies were properly distributed to those in need. Many of the donations came from people within the Wellington community.
Clearly, John Sitomer is somebody who sees a hurdle and figures out how to negotiate it, whether it’s a child who needs help in the classroom or his latest battle with cancer.