Badlanis, WOSF join together in fundraising challenge

Nikhil Badlani

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Nikhil Badlani Foundation and the West Orange Scholarship Fund have partnered to present a scholarship fundraising challenge to benefit the West Orange High School Class of 2017, of which Nikhil would have been a member had he not been killed by a distracted driver in 2011.

As always, the Nikhil Badlani Foundation will donate a $10,000 scholarship to the fund, which will distribute the money to students who dedicated themselves to the arts while in school. But in addition to that, the foundation this year pledges to match up to $10,000 of whatever the WOSF can raise by April 1. In other words, a maximum of $30,000 could be awarded to WOHS seniors in Nikhil’s memory.

Sangeeta and Sunil Badlani devised this challenge, and Sunil Badlani told the West Orange Chronicle that the couple wanted to do something special to commemorate the year their son would have graduated. And while Sangeeta Badlani joked that she hopes Nikhil would not be too embarrassed to be the center of attention with this fundraiser, she knows that her son would be happy to know his name is being used to help his classmates.

“We always say ‘Nikhil, you’re continuing to touch everyone’s life even now,’” Sangeeta Badlani said in a Feb. 24 phone interview. “It is Nikhil who is guiding us to do this. And so that’s how we look at it — that his legacy will live on.”

Creating a scholarship was one of the Badlanis’ first acts after their son’s death as academics had been such a significant part of Nikhil’s life. Sangeeta Badlani recalled that he always earned straight A’s and high praise from his teachers. She read out a report card comment from his fifth-grade teacher, who wrote that Nikhil was a “conscientious student who has concern for others,” saying her son would one day receive the full-ride scholarship to Harvard for which he was striving.

Nikhil’s drive to learn was never confined to the classroom, though. Sunil Badlani recalled that when Nikhil was only in kindergarten, he put together a poster detailing information about the different fossils they’d found after a day of searching. It came out so well that his teacher had him present it to the rest of his class. He was even asked to speak before other classes as well.

Sunil Badlani said Nikhil loved to absorb facts about his favorite subjects in general — especially animals. Despite the fact that the Badlanis never owned a dog, he said Nikhil knew a lot about the animal after reading a dog encyclopedia. And that was evident when Nikhil once spotted a highly unusual dog during a trip to the farmers market.

“It was a very unique-looking kind of species, not a common one,” Sunil Badlani said in a Feb. 24 phone interview. But Nikhil thought he knew what type of dog it was. “I said ‘Well, there’s only one way to find out. Go ask the owner.’ He was a little shy when he was young. So once I kind of prodded him he went and asked the owner, and she said ‘Yeah, that is the species.’”

WOSF Treasurer Jim Quinn never had the chance to meet Nikhil, but he has gotten to know Sangeeta and Sunil Badlani well. Quinn said he first spoke with them shortly after their son’s death, when they were pursuing the idea of holding a charitable event in their son’s honor later that year. He said he did not know at the time whether such a gathering could be organized so quickly, but the Badlanis were determined, so he and other township officials pulled together to help them make it happen. And sure enough, the first STOP for Nikhil 5K Run/Walk was held that September.

The fact that the Badlanis would think of doing something good for others right after experiencing such tragedy shows exactly what kind of people they are, Quinn said.

“We’re just in awe of what they’ve been able to accomplish and the manner in which they’ve been able to accomplish everything,” Quinn said in a Feb. 23 phone interview. “They’re very humble people. They don’t want any of the credit, but you could tell they wanted to make a positive out of a tragedy. And they really have, in spades.”

Quinn said the WOSF jumped at the prospect of partnering with the Nikhil Badlani Foundation when it was approached with the idea of the scholarship challenge. After all the money that the foundation has already contributed to the fund — Sangeeta Badlani said her organization has given out roughly $35,000 to more than 21 students through the WOSF since 2012 — he said the fund is eager to help the foundation donate more. So far the fund is approximately 25 percent of the way toward the $10,000 goal, he said. But he knows the fund will need help from the West Orange community to reach the full amount.

“If you want to support the community, this is the cause to support,” Quinn said, pointing out that the WOSF has distributed approximately $1,175,000 in scholarships to students who meet the academic, service and need-based criteria since its first award was given out in 1925. “We’re making college just a little bit more affordable for folks who have a real challenge in continuing their education.”

The Badlanis said they are happy to work with the fund, and especially to benefit Nikhil’s friends this year. Though Sangeeta Badlani said it will be bittersweet to see the class graduate when her own son will not, she said it will be nice to know the students will be helped on their way to college thanks to Nikhil’s legacy.

And the Badlanis believe they all have bright futures ahead of them.

“It may be my biased opinion, but I think this class is phenomenal in every single way,” Sangeeta Badlani said, adding that its members have thrived in both academics and athletics. “I think this group of students is going to do extremely well. We are really proud of them, and I know Nikhil is going to be very proud of them.”

To donate to the scholarship challenge, make checks payable to the West Orange Scholarship Fund — noting “Nikhil Badlani” in the memo field — and mail them to the WOSF c/o Jim Quinn, 23 Witte Place, West Orange, N.J., 07052. If the contributions exceed the $10,000 cap, Quinn said any additional funds will also go toward the Nikhil Badlani Foundation Scholarship.