Immaculate Heart Academy

Immaculate Heart Academy student creates the perfect pay it forward story for victims of tragic Paramus bus accident

Immaculate Heart Logo

Bergen County, New Jersey: A freshman Immaculate Heart Academy (IHA) student was so moved by the 2018 tragic Paramus bus accident she decided to do something meaningful to support the victims and families. Freshman Vanessa Pecora approached Principal Jason Schlereth and asked if students could paint Hearts of Hope to be given as gifts to those closely impacted by the bus tragedy.

The school was immediately supportive of this “Hearts of Hope for Paramus” initiative and Vanessa’s good friend and fellow freshman Madison DeStefano joined her as co-leader. Within days, they arranged to partner with Hearts of Hope to receive materials. Funding was made possible through CARE, the school’s Christian Service organization and on May 29 and 30, approximately 75 Immaculate Heart Academy students and staff created and painted 165 beautiful Hearts of Hope, each with an individual message of love and courage.

On June 4, Hearts of Hope were delivered to East Brook Middle School in Paramus, New Jersey where school principal, Mr. Thomas LoBue organized the distribution to the 5th-grade students and their teachers who were so close to the bus tragedy.

Vanessa Pecora was introduced to Hearts of Hope in 2014 when her mother, Jill, was presented a Heart of Hope as a result of her battle with breast cancer. Jill Pecora, coincidentally an English teacher at IHA, was intrigued by the program and desired to “pay-it-forward” herself. She reached out to Hearts of Hope volunteer Alice Nagy who happened to be one of her infusion nurses at Valley Hospital and the Hearts of Hope North Jersey President. Soon, Nagy helped arrange for Jill’s daughter to paint hearts as part of her Girl Scout Troop Silver project. After the scout project was completed, Vanessa continued on her own to paint hearts for the hospital infusion center. When she and her mother were watching the events from the bus tragedy unfold on television, Vanessa immediately knew how to do her part in comforting the victims.

Vanessa says that she knew something had to be done to help her neighbors in Paramus. “Hearts of Hope immediately came to mind because I know first-hand how a simple heart can bring comfort to someone in crisis,” she says. “I thought a Heart of Hope from ‘The Heart’ would capture IHA’s mission while spreading compassion.”

An IHA Hearts of Hope chapter has now been initiated, and Vanessa hopes the chapter will allow IHA students to reach as many populations in need as possible. “My co-group leader, Madison, and I have already been brainstorming ideas for next year,” she says. “We want to have a kickoff event in September right at the start of the school year, and plan to do monthly painting events. We would like to deliver hearts to various groups including the sick, the poor, and those in crisis. The possibilities are endless.”

Immaculate Heart Academy was founded in 1960 as the first regional high school for girls in the Archdiocese of Newark. Its mission both at the time of foundation and today is to provide quality Catholic education to young women in an atmosphere characterized by respect for the individual, Christian community, and a high level of family involvement. IHA is a college preparatory high school for young women; a strong theme throughout the curriculum and extracurricular activities is the development of the special gifts that women can bring to society.

“Our hearts are a simple and loving way to bring encouragement to people and communities who have endured so much,” explains Judy Pedersen, Executive Director and Founder, “they are small, but powerful gifts from the heart.

For more information about Immaculate Heart Academy contact Tara Hopfenspirger, Director of Communications at (201)-445-6800, ext. 13 or email her at