Giving Back

Westfield’s Greta’s Run Expands, Becomes Grant-Making Foundation

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Greta's Run co-founders Jayne Ruotolo and Ben Nanna at the 2015 5K. Credits: Greta's Run
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Handcyclist Dennis McGorty completes the 2015 Greta’s Run 5K, his first race since he became paralyzed in 2013. Credits: Jackie Lieberman
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WESTFIELD, NJ — The founders of Greta’s Run have taken the annual event on its next step forward, forming the Greta’s Run Foundation.

Greta’s Run began in 2013 as a way to honor the memory of Greta Schoenemann, who died in September 2002 when she was a freshman at Westfield High School.  Originally run in partnership with the Westfield Area Y, money raised in the annual 5K was used to create the Y's Dragonfly Program, which offers fitness, recreation and social opportunities for young adults with special needs. Greta’s sister Elise, who has cerebral palsy, is among those benefitting from the program.

The newly formed Greta’s Run Foundation, with its 501(c)3 status is pending, is a grant-making organization.

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“We have a new community partner to host the fourth annual Greta’s Run and established the organizations that will benefit from the proceeds,” Greta’s Run Co-Founder Ben Nanna said. "I started the Dragonfly Program with one goal in mind — to provide programs at the Westfield Area Y that were not being provided for a population of people that needed it. We raised a ton of money and made it happen.”

A spokesperson for the Westfield Area Y said that the Y will continue to hold its own an annual run each September to raise money for the Dragonfly Program.

“Thanks to Greta’s Run, the Y has the opportunity to host its own 5K to continue the work we started and ensure the Dragonfly Program continues to flourish,” Nanna said. “Everything is happening the way it should be. It’s perfect.”

Nanna, who had been friends with Greta Schoenemann, founded Greta’s Run with their friend Jayne Ruotolo. He said that the mission of Greta’s Run continues to be bringing opportunities to people with special needs that make them feel excited, empowered, socially fulfilled and cool. 

“I fiercely believe everyone should have the opportunity to do something really great with their life,” he said. “Greta’s Run is our way of creating those opportunities and, in her absence, using Greta’s legacy to make ourselves, the people we love and our community a better place.”

Greta’s Run events are a celebration of life, Nanna said, where everyone is encouraged to participate. People with special needs have made Greta’s Run 5K the first race they ever participated in.

“That says it all,” Nanna said. 

Greta’s Run Foundation will be run solely by a team of volunteers so that that money raised will go directly toward improving the lives of people with special needs, he said.

“It was easy getting people to join us. We already have a team of professionals,” Nanna said. “I’m attending Columbia University to get my masters in non-profit management, so I get to use what I’m learning at one of the best schools in the world to continue making Greta’s Run one of the best 5Ks in the world. It’s incredible. The Schoenemann’s, Jayne and I feel so good about it,” Nanna said. “It's a great time to be a leader.”

For more information about Greta’s Run Foundation, email ben.nanna@gretasrun.org. Visit their Facebook page by clicking here.

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