Every Mother’s Day since 2010, Melanie Josif of Tenafly, 19, has participated in the Rubin Run with her mother, Suzette. She thinks of the fundraiser for special-needs programs at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades as a cherished tradition.
“Melanie has autism, and when she first started understanding what was going on in the pandemic, one of the first things she said was, ‘What about Melanie’s Rubin Run?,’” Suzette Josif said. “I said we’ll have to see. As it got closer and we saw it would a virtual run, I said to her, ‘We’re going to have Melanie’s Rubin Run. It will just be a little different.’”
Indeed, this year’s Virtual Rubin Run was a little different than the previous 38. Runners had from May 7 to May 10 to complete their chosen event: the 5K, 10K, half marathon, or the Set My Own Distance Challenge. The Kids Fun Run, a 1K distance challenge for children 12 and younger, was new this year.
Nearly 300 runners participated, and not only from local communities. Runners from Maine to California logged more than 1,000 miles in total.
“Truthfully, we weren’t sure what to expect,” Jordan Shenker, the JCC’s CEO, said. “But the community showed its dedication to us, this event, and supporting our special-needs community. They virtually showed up by the hundreds and sponsored and donated over $100,000 to make this our most successful fundraising run ever.”
The Rubin Run benefits programs and services intended to improve the quality of life for hundreds of differently abled children, teens, and adults and their families and caregivers. Even while the JCC is closed, most of these programs are open virtually.
“In fact, the JCC is working harder than ever to ensure that this population, who already experience high levels of social isolation and anxiety, remain feeling connected and do not experience regression,” Mr. Shenker said.
For Melanie, any disappointment about the change in plans dissipated as she left her house last Sunday morning with her parents and her brother Eli, 17, and sister Sydney, 13. Her mom already had completed a 10K on her basement treadmill and printed out race bibs for Melanie to make the experience feel authentic.
“As we went for a family walk around the neighborhood, I reached out to friends before we passed their houses and asked them to pop out and give her a cheer,” Ms. Josif said. “People came out and cheered for Melanie, and one friend made a sign for her.”
Reflecting on the heartwarming experience, Ms. Josif said, “There’s always an opportunity to turn an unexpected change into a positive and that’s what we all have to take away from this. These small changes or adaptions are nothing in the big scheme of things.”
The Rubin Run is named for the late Leonard Rubin, a past president and founder of the JCC, who established this community-wide athletic event to encourage and promote healthy living.
His son, Daniel Rubin of Englewood, also a past JCC president, said alternative planning for the 39th annual run began early.
“We started immediately upon the outbreak of this tragic disease, knowing we wouldn’t be able to get 1,100 or 1,200 people assembled for the race,” Mr. Rubin said. “JCC staff and the Rubin Run Committee came up with ideas of how to do it virtually.”
Mr. Rubin’s son, Jed, and daughter-in-law, Brandi, of Demarest and their four children did their run in their neighborhood, as did his daughter, Becky, and her husband, Alan Canarick, with their three children in Harrington Park.
“It gave everyone an opportunity to get out and do something important for the community,” Mr. Rubin said.
In preparation for the race, participants of all ages were offered virtual training sessions and live Zoom warm-ups and cool-downs led by JCC fitness coaches and staff. The JCC shared downloadable virtual bibs to print out, a virtual runner’s bag, and several DIY card and gift projects to celebrate mothers and caregivers.
Rebecca Seeman of Orangeburg said that her daughter Page, 5, who graduated from the JCC’s Early Childhood Center last spring, “was bummed that she wouldn’t be able to go to the run, and we don’t know if camp is happening this year at the JCC, so we registered her to do the run virtually.”
Ms. Seeman jogged around the house with Page 15 to 20 times every day to get her in shape. “We had so much fun,” she said. “I started posting pictures online of her doing this and said we were raising money for individuals with special needs. We wound up raising $1,000 even though many people can’t afford to donate at this time.
“Page was glowing every time a donation came in. She’d say, ‘Mommy, really, they gave $100 to the JCC for me, Mommy?’ I guess seeing her racing around the house cheered people up.”
The day of the run, Page’s dad, Timothy, set up a racetrack around the Seeman house. Page participated in pre-Kids Fun Run stretching class on Zoom with the JCC’s athletics director, Keri Thoren.
“Page even set up a lemonade stand to raise more money for the JCC,” her mom said. “It made her so happy.”
Sponsors of the 39th Rubin Run on various levels included the Kaplen Foundation, Liberman Networks, BSecure, Englewood Health, ShopRite, the Rubin family, the Rubach family, the Jewish Standard, and the North Jersey Media Group.
For information about supporting the 2020 Virtual Rubin Run and people with disabilities at the JCC, call Alison Kenny at (201) 408-1405 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.