As pandemic restrictions continue to be lifted, people around the globe are faced with the idea of finding a new normal. The concept, however, is an all too familiar feeling for the Parikh family who lost their little brother and son, Om Parikh, to a rare form of brain cancer in early 2018.
The family has since created the Om Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at raising pediatric cancer awareness, helping fund research, and supporting families who are experiencing a similar situation as they once did.
In addition to offering financial aid scholarships to graduating seniors, the Foundation pledges thousands of dollars annually towards pediatric cancer research, sponsors students to attend different programs regarding cancer awareness, and works with the Monroe Township Middle School to host “Optimism Week.” During this year’s Optimism Week, students painted rocks and decorated sticky notes with positive messages. Over two dozen classrooms participated in a door decorating contest, too.
Over the years, the Foundation’s work has been recognized by ABC News Philadelphia, TV Asia, India Abroad, The Millstone Times, and of course, The Falconer’s Voice, among others.
The Foundation hopes to spread their message of positivity and optimism even further at this year’s 5th Annual Om Memorial 5K Run and 1M Mile Walk. Prices are set for adults at $30 for the run and $15 for the walk, and children ages 5-18 are to pay $17 for the run and $10 for the walk. Registration can be done through the Foundation's website. The event is scheduled for Sunday, May 15, 2022, at Thompson Park beginning at 7:30 am. To pick up t-shirts, participants can either go to the Recreation Center (on May 11, 2022) or the Senior Center (on May 12, 2022) from 7:00-8:45 pm.
As for live entertainment, Hidden Gems and the high school’s percussion ensemble will be performing. Heroes for Hire will also be joining the event this year and race participants will be able to take pictures with fan-favorite heroes and princesses.
The event typically opens with the singing of the National Anthem by a select group of singers from the MTMS chorus as well as speeches from the Parikh family, Mayor, and Grand Ambassador. This year’s Grand Ambassador is Mikey Nichols, a former Monroe Township graduate. After fracturing his C5 vertebrae during a hockey game in 2014, he became paralyzed but remains hopeful that he “will walk again.” Since his accident, he has continued to love the game of hockey, but more importantly, takes pride in his “never quit attitude.”
Part of the reason as to why the 5K’s have been such a success in the past is largely due to the widespread community support. A team of dedicated volunteers meets multiple times a week prior to the event, planning race-day details and sharing social media posts. These same volunteers also create posters, help recruit participants, plant lawn signs advertising the event, write about the 5K to local outlets and on race day, help with crowd control, food, registration, etc. There are also generous sponsors and donors with Dr. Falguni Patel’s Monroe Dental Studio being this year’s Grand Sponsor.
Most of all, the race’s success is credited to the participants who celebrate Om’s life and continue to share his optimistic attitude. Hundreds of runners and walkers of all ages come from across the state.
In addition to athletes from the Middle and High school, plenty of these participants belong to Om’s Graduating Class of 2022.
Om’s mom, Krupa Parikh, emotionally shared, “This year’s graduating class at MTHS…has achieved this milestone despite experiencing so much adversity in the last few years. From losing friends and family members, to adapting to learning in a global pandemic, to personal battles that only they know about, we want these students to remember that they should be proud of themselves as they move onto college and the real world!”
With only a couple of weeks left until race day, the Foundation is excited to see participants like you at what they hope will be the biggest and best race to date. More information about the Foundation and upcoming 5K can be found on their social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).