Local women to run New York City Marathon for Chabad Friendship Circle

Local women to run New York City Marathon for Chabad Friendship Circle

SSDS students and faculty wore pink and sold pink treats and student-made items Oct. 22 to raise breast cancer awareness and in support of Schechter parent Ilana Picker, who is running in the marathon for Sharsheret. Amy Levine

For about four years, pairs of teenage girls arrived every week at the home of Daniella Miller, a special-needs child who is now 10 years old. Recruited by the Bergen County branch of an international Chabad Lubavitch program called the Friendship Circle, the rotating roster of “Friends@Home” volunteers played with Daniella and helped her mother, Nancy, care for her.

Nancy Miller will be running in the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 7 as part of “Team Friendship,” in gratitude to this program.

Miller, a Teaneck mother of five who teaches at The Moriah School in Englewood, raised close to $1,000 two years ago for Jewish Education for Special Children, a Sunday program in River Edge, by completing the MORE magazine half-marathon in Central Park. This time, the stakes are higher in terms of both distance and dollars.

In return for receiving a guaranteed spot in the race, ING requires each runner participating for a charity to pledge to raise at least $2,400. Each of seven Team Friendship runners may designate the funds for his or her local Friendship Circle.

Another Teaneck mom, Ilana Picker, will be running on a 10-person team to benefit Sharsheret, a locally headquartered national not-for-profit organization supporting young Jewish women and their families facing breast cancer.

Nancy Miller, who will run in the New York City Marathon to benefit the Friendship Circle, and her daughter Daniella. Courtesy Nancy Miller

Picker’s effort got some spirited support from the 125 middle-schoolers at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, who turned Oct. 22 into “Pink Day” and raised about $500 by selling pink drinks, snacks, and items such as handmade embroidered ribbons and beaded earrings.

According to the school’s Rabbi Fred Elias, most of the students and faculty wore pink that day, including special-edition pink Schechter kippot. “We thought this would be a great way to engage the middle school as well to come together proactively in support of Ilana,” said Elias. Picker, unavailable for interview at press time, has four daughters at Schechter.

“For the past two years, I have been fortunate to have been part of Team Sharsheret in the NYC Race for Cure,” she wrote on her website. “It has been amazing and inspiring to see the work that Sharsheret does in educating women, in supporting and bringing people together, and in campaigning for breast cancer.”

As for Miller, she now has a professional caregiver for Daniella, but remains grateful for the Friends@Home visits. “She’d always clap when they arrived; she was so happy to see them. They would play with her, help me feed her, or take her for a walk. It was really fabulous in those years when I didn’t have full-time help.”

Daniella’s 16-year-old sister Chana invited Friendship Circle of Bergen County director Zeesy Grossbaum to speak about the organization at her bat mitzvah four years ago. Several guests signed up as volunteers.

“We have almost 500 volunteers any given year,” said Grossbaum, of Paramus. “About 150 families of special-needs children are involved in our programs. They know us and trust us.”

Nearly 200 teens volunteer for Friends@Home, but the seven-year-old Friendship Circle of Bergen County (201-262-7172, bcfriendship.com) also runs holiday programs, school vacation camps, sports and martial arts, cooking, and programs for siblings and parents hosted at area day schools.

Friendship Circle was founded in 1994. Its 70 worldwide chapters encompass seven in New Jersey and 21 in New York, including one in Rockland County (845-368-1889).

The Friendship Circle of Passaic County (973-694-6274, fcpassaiccounty.com), headed by Sariba Feinstein at the Chabad Center in Wayne, sponsors activities including a bowling league for special-needs kids and their siblings. The next session is on the same day as the marathon, at 2:30 p.m.

The chapter serves about 35 religious and unaffiliated families in Wayne, Clifton, and Passaic, most of whom request Friends@Home. The corps of about 80 volunteers is recruited both from day schools, particularly YBH of Passaic, and the non-denominational B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Jewish holiday events, vacation camps, and Mom’s Night Out are among its activities.

Both the Bergen and Passaic chapters provide volunteer orientations and training sessions, mostly for children in grades seven through 12. “Our goal is not to turn them into pros, but to make sure they feel comfortable when they volunteer,” Grossbaum said. “We try to make it fun for them and it’s very rewarding. Friendship Circle volunteers appreciate how much we need their time and energy.”

Speaking of energy, in preparation for the marathon Miller rises early each morning to train. She runs about 30 miles a week, some on her treadmill and some outdoors in venues such as Votee Park in Teaneck.

To donate to Miller’s run, fill out a web form at www.crowdrise.com/run4friendship/fundraiser/nancymiller.

To donate to Picker’s run, see www.sharsheret.org//mar2010-ilanapicker.php.

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