ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County has partnered with eight national and state nonprofit organizations to raise awareness for their causes and generate interest in upcoming fundraising events.
County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced March 27 that the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, The Arc of Essex County, Give the Kids Hope Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the New Jersey Children’s Alliance, the Nikhil Badlani Foundation and The Valerie Fund will each be able to offer reduced $5 admission prices to the South Mountain Recreation Complex to participants in their upcoming fundraisers. Anyone wishing to take advantage of the discount should simply visit the complex on the same day of the event and present proof that they attended it.
Offering the deal is a way of showing gratitude to the eight charities as well as those who support them, according to DiVincenzo. It also serves as an incentive to attend the nonprofits’ fundraisers, which he hopes many people will do.
“Each of these well-respected organizations does a great deal to make a positive difference in and improve the quality of life for our residents,” DiVincenzo said in a March 28 press release. “I invite the public to run, walk, golf or donate to help out these really great causes.”
The Arc of Essex County certainly appreciates the chance to partner with the county for its 19th annual Building Tomorrows 5k Run, Family Walk and Fun Fest on April 29. Heather Comstock, The Arc’s senior director of development and communication, pointed out that the more people the organization can attract using the discount means the more money it can raise for its programs benefiting those who are intellectually and developmentally disabled. These initiatives include day services, early intervention and recreational activities.
Comstock said approximately 1,500 people with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to autism already utilize The Arc’s services each year. As a result, she said the nonprofit has seen such successes as children taking their first steps and adults becoming independent by finding jobs and moving out on their own. In short, she said The Arc enables those it serves to reach their highest potential.
And considering that the number of children with disabilities is on the rise — a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics showed a 20.9-percent increase in childhood neurodevelopmental or mental health cases in data sets taken between 2001 and 2011 — Comstock said The Arc’s services are as vital as ever.
“People with disabilities have dreams and hopes like everybody else,” Comstock said in a March 30 phone interview. “The Arc is here to make sure we’re providing top-quality services to be able to really round out their life experience and make sure they’re achieving all that they hope to.”
The county has supported The Arc in this goal for many years, and it has also been a longtime partner for the Maplewood-based Valerie Fund. In fact, Director of Marketing and Communications Bunny Flanders said Essex County plays an integral role in spreading the word about its annual Valerie Fund Walk and JAG Physical Therapy 5k Run, which take place June 10 this year. Flanders said many county employees even band together to participate, typically raising $10,000 each year.
This year the fund hopes to raise its usual total of $1 million in support of its programs, which Flanders said benefit approximately 6,000 children with cancer and blood diseases every year. These services include everything from clinical research to child life specialists to Camp Happy times, a weeklong overnight camp that allows current and former cancer patients to bond in an environment where they can have fun. Overall, she said, The Valerie Fund aims to help the young ones it serves both physically and emotionally during a very hard time for them.
“Cancer is such a difficult disease,” Flanders said in a March 30 phone interview. “It’s just awful that kids have to go through it. So we should try to make them have as little time in discomfort as possible.”
Helping children with cancer is an important cause considering the number of young people afflicted with the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 10,270 new cancer cases will be diagnosed for children younger than 14 in 2017. And though childhood cancer death rates declined by more than two-thirds from 1969 to 2014, the ACS still reports an estimated 1,190 childhood cancer deaths are expected to occur this year. Cancer is the second-leading cause of death for children younger than 14 years old, with only accidents claiming more lives.
Statistics for traffic-related deaths are also troubling. According to the West Orange-based Nikhil Badlani Foundation, there were 604 car crash fatalities in New Jersey last year, 7 percent more than in 2015, and Essex County saw 46 traffic-related deaths. In 2017, there have already been 10 people killed in Essex County alone.
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation seeks to bring down those numbers through traffic safety education initiatives at local schools and has engaged with more than 15,000 students so far. But that work — as well as the academic scholarships and music lessons the foundation provides — would not be possible without the funds collected through the nonprofit’s sole fundraiser, the STOP for Nikhil 5k Run/Walk. Sangeeta Badlani, who co-founded the charity after her 11-year-old son, Nikhil, was killed in a crash caused by a distracted driver, said she is grateful the county is willing to support the Sept. 17 event.
Badlani hopes Essex County will be just as willing to work with her foundation to implement changes on its roadways in support of Vision Zero, a concept calling for making streets safer no matter the cost to ensure there are no traffic fatalities. After all, she said, preventing driver and pedestrian deaths does not require clinical research for a cure; there are already plenty of safety measures that have proved to work. But roads will never change if the public does not make it known what they want, she said.
“Clearly we know that this is an issue, and we need to address it,” Badlani said in a March 30 phone interview. “That can only be done by raising awareness amongst everyone.”
The Arc of Essex County’s 19th annual Building Tomorrows 5K Run, Family Walk and Fun Fest will be Saturday, April 29, at the Clipper Pavilion in the South Mountain Recreation Complex, with registration beginning at 8 a.m., the 5K at 9 a.m., the walk at 11:30 a.m. and the fun fest at noon; for information and registration, visit www.runorwalk.org.
The David Harris 2017 Invitational Golf Tournament benefits the Give the Kids Hope Foundation and will be Monday, May 15, with 9:30 a.m. registration at the Green Brook Country Club in North Caldwell; for information, visit www.GiveTheKidsHope.org.
The 2017 Valerie Fund Walk & JAG Physical Therapy 5K Run will be Saturday, June 10, in Verona Park; visit www.thevaleriefund.org/walk or call the Valerie Fund offices at 973-761-0422.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society will host MuckFest MS in South Mountain Reservation on Saturday, June 24, and Sunday, June 25, beginning at 9 a.m. at the intersection of Northfield Avenue and Cherry Lane in West Orange; for information and registration, call 800-346-6825 or visit www.muckfest.com.
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation will present the Stop for Nikhil 5K Run/Walk on Sunday, Sept. 17, at West Orange High School, 51 Conforti Ave., with registration at 8 a.m., a ceremony at 8:45, the 5K at 9:30 and a 3K walk at 9:45; for more information, visit www.nikhilbadlanifoundation.org.
The New Jersey Children’s Alliance will present the Heroes for Children 5K and Family Fun Run/Walk on Saturday, Sept. 23, at the Clipper Pavilion, off of Cherry Lane in West Orange, in the South Mountain Recreation Complex with the 5K at 9 a.m. and the family fun run/walk at 10 a.m.; for more information, visit www.njcainc.org/heroes-for-children.
The American Cancer Society will present Making Strides Against Breast Cancer on Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Prudential Center, 25 Lafayette St. in Newark, with registration beginning at 8 a.m. and the walk commencing at 10.
The second Greater Northern NJ Heart Walk will be Sunday, Oct. 22, at the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange with registration at 8 a.m., the kids’ heart challenge at 9:30 and the walk at 10; for more information on the Heart Walk, visit www.greaterNNJheartwalk.org.