GOTR nurtures strong, confident girls in Essex

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Girls on the Run New Jersey East gathered at Mayfair Farms in West Orange on May 9 for its annual fundraising breakfast, encouraging local residents to support the group’s New Jersey chapter. The nonprofit organization sponsors running teams for girls across the country and the breakfast featured keynote speaker Sarah Ford, coach for the Verona Girls on the Run team, and Edison Middle School sixth-grader and runner Saniyah Williams.

Annie Seelaus, CEO of the investment firm R. Seelaus & Co., also spoke at the event, asking the audience to support area running teams. Girls on the Run New Jersey East sponsors teams in Essex, Union, Morris, Mercer and Burlington counties.

“I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more women in my industry, and data says that women who are lack confidence and courage,” Seelaus said at the event. “What Girls on the Run is doing is solving those things in girls. They’re running alongside them and giving them confidence to deal with the curveballs that life will throw at them.”

Saniyah and her mother, Robbin Jordan, who spoke about Saniyah’s unique experience running with Girls on the Run while a student at Kelly Elementary School, were introduced at the breakfast by GOTR Director of Community Relations Lori Kapferer. Saniyah is blind, and her team coaches fashioned a belt to connect her to a coach, allowing her to run with someone alongside her and keep her on track.

“She came to practice eager to run laps,” Kapferer said. “Each coach looked forward to running with Saniyah. She led us to believe that the seemingly impossible was possible. She doesn’t allow her limitations to set the course of her life.”

Jordan said Saniyah’s deteriorating vision has not stopped her from running or doing anything else.

“Participating in Girls on the Run has helped her in her new way of life,” Jordan said. “She is a remarkable young girl who inspires me to be the person she thinks I am.”

At the event, Saniyah thanked her third-grade teacher at Kelly, Nick Salese, for introducing her to Girls on the Run.

“When I first started I felt really nervous because I was the only blind girl there,” she said. “I thought they would be mean, but they were all really nice. I’m so glad that Mr. Salese introduced me to Girls on the Run.”

Ford delivered the keynote speech, telling the audience about her experience as a marathon runner and a living kidney donor for a friend of hers. The coach said she began running just to see if she could finish a 5K.

“Not only did I feel like a million bucks, but I felt like running had saved my life,” Ford said in her speech. “I’ve run through lots of bad conditions and bad days and it’s about taking care of myself so I can take care of the people who depend on me.”

Ford also discussed why she decided to become a coach for Girls on the Run.

“I knew I loved running and it seemed like an obvious choice,” she said. “Watching them start, not knowing if they can run at all, and then seeing them blossom into confident young women is wonderful. Let’s raise a new generation of girls who aren’t smiling because they’re told to, they’re smiling because they want to.”

Lindsay Dischley, a board member of Girls on the Run New Jersey East, also described her experience coaching young runners.

“At the 5K I saw them running and encouraging each other, some of these girls who I couldn’t even get to skip in the beginning,” Dischley said. “It gives me so much confidence in our future. Strong, confident girls grow up into strong, confident women.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic