NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ — Bright blue, sunny skies welcomed thousands of runners, walkers and supporters of the NJ Sharing Network in New Providence for their event, “Celebration of Life,” to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation this weekend. It included a USATF 5K Race at 8:30 am and a 5K walk at 10 am. The NJ Sharing Network grounds, located at 691 Central Avenue, were set up with a sponsor village, ain stage and a children’s Area. More than 300 volunteers were instrumental in making the event a success along with local business support, including the New Providence Business & Professional Association and corporate sponsors.
“There are so many heartwarming stories from the families and individuals involved in our 5K. Their lives have been truly transformed through giving," said Elise Glennon, NJ Sharing Network’s vice president and chief administrative officer and the executive director of NJ Sharing Network Foundation.
This year the 5K Celebration of Life expanded to two locations, a 5K Walk at Bergen Community College in Paramus on April 12 and the New Providence USATF Race and 5K Walk. To date the NJ Sharing Network Foundation has raised more than $650,000 in individual contributions and sponsorships for the 5K Celebration of Life.
Christine O’Neill of New Providence lost her son John O’Neill in October 2001. At the time, he was playing football at New Providence High School. Christine volunteered in the tent where John’s picture and his team number 31 were part of a quilt honoring donors. The memory quilts are displayed “To Remember, To Honor, To Give Hope.” Christine said, “A donor is a gift of life to many people.” She added, “John changed a lot of peoples’ lives.”
Running and walking teams comprised of friends and relatives were formed to honor donors and recipients. Individuals and businesses also participated in the event. John Salaki was the Team Captain for Magnet Mailers of Hillsborough. Magnet Mailers had 10 members and this was the second time the company participated. Salaki said, “I feel great about the race. This is perfect weather.”
Robert Wood Johnson, a “Gold Sponsor” of the Celebration of Life, had a total of 25 participants in the run and the walk. Rosalia Cerrato-Perotta said that the employees were very enthusiastic and the group included RWJ executives.
“Team Luli” from Bogota, New Jersey had 14 members that included children. Lourdes (nicknamed Luli) Taveras received a liver transplant three years ago and she was proud to be part of her team.
“Team Marlboro High School” had 122 participants. Marlboro student Blake Rogolsky started a club at her school after her father, Alan, had a heart transplant four years ago. She works to raise the awareness of tissue and organ donation for her peers.
Caitlin English said that her high school sweetheart, BJ Giannone, had a heart condition and passed away at a swim meet when he was a student at Sr. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City. The team “Live like BJ” had over 60 people who were both walking and running on Sunday.
Suzanne Forster (nicknamed Ava) was on the New Providence EMS for 12 years. She had a kidney transplant on May 12. Members of the New Providence EMS were supporting the cause of organ and tissue donation by forming “Team Ava.” Forster attended the event with her daughter, Megan, and husband, Daryl.
“Organ donations really do make a difference in life," Forster said.
“Team Courtney Dayback” is from the Holmdel area. They had 32 runners and walkers who were proud to honor Courtney who passed away at age 19. Her organ and tissue donations saved seven lives.
Greg T., a DJ from Z100, was at the Celebration of Life for the fifth year and said that his wife was an organ donor. Just before the race he told the crowd of over 1,700 runners, “This is a spectacular morning.” He added, “Run, be safe, hug each other and be part of this fantastic day.” The runners were led and paced by the NJ Sharing Network’s own cycling team.
At 9:30 a.m. there were race awards and a program which featured speakers including Mayor Al Morgan, Joe Roth, the President and CEO of the NJ Sharing Network and Frank D’Amelio, executive VP of business operations and CFO of Pfizer, Inc. which was the presenting sponsor.
NJ Sharing Network is a non-profit, federally designated organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for New Jersey residents in need of life-saving transplants. The NJ Sharing Network Foundation is committed to increasing the number of lives saved through education, research, donor family support and public awareness about the life-saving benefits of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. One organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives and restore health to 50 others and more than 120,000 people nationwide are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. For more information and to register to be a donor, visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org