WEST ORANGE, NJ - Hundreds of people gathered at Suriano Stadium in West Orange on Sunday morning for the fifth annual Stop for Nikhil 5k Run/3k Walk. People from all over New Jersey participated in the event in an effort to support the Nikhil Badlani Foundation and promote traffic safety awareness.

The foundation was created after 11-year-old Nikhil Badlani lost his life in a motor vehicle accident in June 2011. An academically rigorous student, Nikhil attended West Orange Public Schools, and participated in programs such as HAP (High Aptitude Program), Wind Ensemble, and the New Jersey Youth Symphony. Nikhil’s friends and family describe him as having had an “eagerness to learn and help others,” and a “passion for music and theatre.”

The Stop for Nikhil 5k Run/3k Walk occurs every September, becoming more diverse each year. This year’s sponsors included the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, AT&T, Morgan Stanley, and the Pleasant Valley Civic Association

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“Every year, we get bigger and better,” said Lisa Renwick, a neighbor and dear friend of the Badlanis. “With everybody’s support in the community and our surrounding towns, the Nikhil Badlani Foundation has been a tremendous success.”

According to Santeega Badlani, mother of Nikhil and President of the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, over 700 people attended this year’s event, ultimately raising $55,000.

“Because of the event’s support, its helped to create a new state law,” Santeega Badlani said. “The event is held to raise awareness about traffic safety and reinforce safe driving practices through the “STOP for Nikhil Safety Pledge,” which is now the premise of ‘Nikhil’s Law.’ We were honored to have Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, an avid public safety advocate, as our keynote speaker.”

In addition to raising money, the Stop for Nikhil 5k Walk/3k Run comprised of pre-race Zumba dancing from fitness instructor Christina Hernandez, a “Fun Run” for youngsters, and music performances by the Music for Nikhil group. The event concluded with an award ceremony for the winners of the 5k Run, some of whom included Max Shapiro (first place, boys’ division) and Alina Chant (first place, girls’ division).

Next year’s event is expected to be even bigger as the Nikhil Badlani Foundation hopes to become a nationwide organization--all in memory of eleven-year-old Nikhil Badlani.

“The Nikhil Badlani Foundation supports the safety of all drivers on the road,” said Marymae Henley, whose son, Logan, was a close friend of Nikhil’s. “It brings so many wonderful people together—all in the memory of an incredible little boy who inspires us to be better every day.”

The Foundation dedicates itself to music, education, and traffic safety—all of which played roles in Nikhil’s life. Programs include Music for Nikhil, the Nikhil Badlani Scholarship, and Traffic Safety Awareness. Additional events are run by the Foundation throughout the year including Traffic Safety Artwork exhibits and t-shirt designing contests.

Click HERE to learn more about the Nikhil Badlani Foundation, for upcoming events in New Jersey and to find out how to donate or contribute to the cause.

Bridget Cunningham is a junior at West Orange High School participating in a journalism program with TAP into West Orange.