When Foxboro native Julia Broccoli first received word of her acceptance to run on behalf of the Herren Project in the 125th Boston Marathon in May 2021, she could not have been more eager to have the opportunity to honor her father’s memory and to help others while doing so.
Broccoli, 24, was first introduced to the Herren Project -- “a national non-profit organization providing free resources and support for the treatment, recovery, and prevention of substance use disorder” -- as a student at Foxboro High School, where Herren shared his story.
“Herren talked about his story and all that he was hoping to accomplish and achieve from the Herren Project, as well as about all that they do for not only the individual struggling with substance use themselves, but also for the family of the individual,” Broccoli explained.
“I felt so connected to the Herren Project,” she added, unaware of how profoundly this connection would grow in the years to come.
After losing her father, Carmine J. Broccoli Jr., to substance use disorder in 2015, Broccoli reached out to the Herren Project in the beginning of 2021 and began utilizing some of the different support groups offered by the non-profit.
“Losing my father in the way that I did is profound. He was the brightest joy,” Broccoli said, “and, I constantly aim to share some of the goodness and joy that he had with the world.”
“I try to keep him alive by being the kindest I can be, but also by showing others [who are] struggling with substance use disorder that they are not alone and that there are so, so many resources available. I have him in the back of my head with everything I do,” she said.
Upon becoming an active member of the Herren Project, Broccoli was eager to discover that the Herren Project is a part of the Boston Marathon’s Official Charity Program -- an organization through which select non-profit organizations are able to recruit participants who agree to raise money to run Boston.
“I’ve always known that if I was ever going to do this marathon, I was only going to do it for an organization that I felt strongly about,” Broccoli said. “And, so, when I saw that the Herren Project was offering bibs, I applied, thinking that I was not going to be accepted, because I am not a runner and also because I’m not remotely athletic.”
Once committing to run Boston for Team Herren, Broccoli was then responsible for raising $10,000. To date, Broccoli has raised $8,223.
“I’m running Boston to not only help make a difference for individuals and families, but also to just spread awareness about this organization and to help to end the stigma surrounding substance use, because, maybe, if I had talked about it more with my father, things could have been different,” Broccoli said.
“I am not an athlete, but I love with all that I have, and, so, I wanted to find a way that I could make a difference,” she said.
As a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) candidate, Broccoli also wants to make a difference in the world of healthcare.
Broccoli first knew that she wanted to pursue a career in the field of healthcare as a high school student.
“Seeing all of the issues within the healthcare system made me want to create change,” Broccoli said.
Broccoli graduated from Foxboro High School in 2015. She then went on to study health sciences at the University of Rhode Island, earning her degree in 2019.
Currently, Broccoli is studying for her master's in public health at Boston University and working full-time as an administration support specialist for the neuro-oncology department at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
“I love what I do at Dana-Farber,” Broccoli said, “and, my graduate program is giving me real, hands-on projects that give me a glimpse of the changes that I’ll be able to make.”
Having gone part-time with her studies this semester to accommodate her marathon training, Broccoli will be finishing up hermaster's next semester.
“My goal is to be a manger or a senior leader for a hospital or a major healthcare organization where the changes that I make will be at the system level,” Broccoli explained. “I want to make the greatest impact that I can.”