They are a family on a mission.
For the past year and a half, Whitman native Mark Chauppetta’s Wheelchair Strong Foundation has spearheaded fundraising efforts in support of Duchenne muscular dystrophy research donations to third-party 501(c) 3 organizations such as the Kingston- based Jett Foundation. Wheelchair Strong has raised more than $30,000 in the last two years for the Jett Foundation, which also raises money for Duchenne research, and a series of 10 grants of $1,000 to families with children with various disabling diseases.
Funds are also used for advocacy.
The three-part goal of the foundation is to raise awareness for Duchenne, help all children that have diseases and to keep his twin sons Troy and Andrew Chauppetta, 23, who suffer from Duchenne, active, participating in life and proving what people in wheelchairs can achieve.
“Wheelchair Strong Foundation wouldn’t be in existence if I didn’t have those two boys … mainly because they are very bright, and they are computer savvy and graduated from [Southeastern Regional] trade school,” he said Friday. “They have degrees in design, visual communications and they know how to write code.”
Troy and Andrew built and manage the foundation’s website wheelchairstrong.com as well as their dad’s private investigations site. They also design graphics for the Wheelchair Strong logo and marketing materials for foundation events, which they also work — selling products from their own business twinteeshirts.com.
“The cool thing about the Wheelchair Strong Foundation is everything we do is entertainment- based,” Chauppetta said. “Everything we do is fun.
… I think laughter and fun and involvement have been the best medicine that Troy and Andrew could have ever had. I think it’s what’s kept them healthy and smiling and laughing and the karma has been amazing for them.”
A big part of that focus on fun has been its annual comedy fundraiser.
The third annual comedy night benefit for the Wheelchair Strong Foundation — Komedy for a Kause 3 — will take the stage Saturday, Oct. 6 at Plymouth Memorial Hall, 83 Court St, Plymouth. A VIP reception with appearances by Boston sports teams legends, will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with doors opening to the public at 7 p.m.
Headlining this year is “Police Academy” movie actor Michael Winslow, the “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects.” Also appearing will be Brockton standup comedian Dan Miller, Boston comic Dave Russo, Jerry Thornton of Barstool Sports and newcomer Harrison Stebbins, with Easy 99.1’s Tom Stewart hosting the program.
Chauppetta said The Hollywood Reporter recently ran a story announcing a new “Police Academy” movie is in the works, to feature Winslow and Steve Guttenberg as academy instructors this time out.
Tickets are now on sale at wheelchairstrong.com.
TV puppeteer Paul Fusco, the voice of cat-eating alien “ALF” has recorded a promotional spot for the show, which can be viewed on the wheelchairstrong.com site.
“My youngest, Max, who is 12 is a huge fan of ALFs,” Chauppetta said, so as a private investigator, he decided to find the actor who voiced the Alien Life Form. “I hunted down Paul Fusco, who is the creator and the voice of ALF.”
He found Fusco’s people and was able to get him a message, and agreed to do the 30-second public service announcement, with a picture of ALF seen wearing a Wheelchair Strong T-shirt from Troy and Andrew Chauppetta’s business site twinteeshirts.com.
“It’s been a great success,” Chaupetta has said of the Komedy for a Kause shows. “What I like to do every year is bring in a celebrity from the past. I’m a product of the ’80s, my wife says I’m stuck in the ’80s, I get great joy out of connecting with people, like ALF, from the ’80s.”
Chauppetta also recently sent a Wheelchair Strong Tshirt to iconic ’80s villain in shows and the move “Vision Quest,” Frank Jasper, who has also helped the foundation raise funds. “Sopranos” heavy Steve Schirripa has also been a long-time supporter of the foundation.
“It’s good exposure for us and they like helping out, Chauppetta said. “Anyone who’s seen Troy and Andrew’s story, how could they say no? They’re these motivated boys that believe in ability and not disability.”
The twins drive a van operated with hand-controls that look like something out of a video game, own a business and live life to the fullest, their proud dad points out.
“Probably more so than ambulatory people, because I think they have a better perspective on life because of their disease,” he said. “Their time is limited — they’re 23 years old, they’re defying the odds. They weren’t even supposed to live this long and they are extremely high-functioning, they’re extremely happy, they’re never not smiling.”
Chauppetta said they do have tough moments behind closed doors, but that the family deals with those moments as a family. “They just bring strength to everyone in our life,” he said, noting he always comes back to Whitman as a 1987 graduate of WHRHS and volunteer with the W-H wrestling team and his youngest son attends Hanson Middle School.
“I’m still active in the community here,” he said. A successful pig roast held in July at the Whitman VFW offered an opportunity for advocacy and to outline the foundation’s purpose for the public.
Chaupetta is also working to complete a feature-length documentary titled “A Father’s Fight,” slated for a local premier in January, on his journey as a father struggling to raise handicapped children.
A trailer can be viewed at wheelchairstrong.com for the film that also features Chauppetta and his sons Troy and Andrew, comic Lenny Clarke, Patrick Renna from the move “The Sandlot” and the Netflix series “Glow,” UFC fighter Joe Lauzon and a lot of family and friends. The film follows Chauppetta who, as a 50-year-old dad, trains while struggling with the decision whether he should get back in the UFC ring to raise money for his kids’ illness.