By Jenna O’Donnell |
OCEANPORT – Every August the community gathers for a big race at Monmouth Park Racetrack, but it’s not the Haskell Invitational that draws this crowd.
The Kortney’s Challenge 2-Mile Fun Walk Run is sneakers on pavement instead of hooves on dirt, and it’s all about raising money to fund pediatric brain cancer research. Now gearing up for the 13th annual Kortney’s Challenge event, The Kortney Rose Foundation (KRF) has continued to grow over the years, bringing awareness and needed funding to a cause inspired by 9-year-old Kortney Rose Gillette, who died in 2006 after she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Kortney’s mother, Kristen Gillette, started what would become the Kortney Rose Foundation in the months following her daughter’s death and to date the organization has raised nearly $2 million dollars to fund research into pediatric brain tumors. Gillette, along with her husband Rich and daughter Kasey, credits much of the nonprofit’s success to the love and support of their community.
“The support of our small town has enabled us to help turn a negative into a positive,” Gillette said. “KRF is making a large impact in supporting research for kids with brain cancer. It’s all from the grassroots efforts begun in Oceanport.”
The Gillette’s foundation was one of the initial supporters behind a collaborative research program dedicated to the study of childhood brain tumors known as Children’s Brain Tumor Tissue Consortium (CBTTC). The consortium’s open-access, data driven approach has enabled top researchers from around the world to develop diagnostic tests and treatments more quickly. As a thank-you to the Gillettes for their support, the CBTTC dedicated its initial research project to the type of brain tumor that Kortney was diagnosed with. It is the largest research project that has ever been done for that type of cancer.
“That meant a lot,” Gillette said. “We’ve been supporting research for all other kinds of tumors in the hopes that someday there would be something really good that we can invest in.”
In an effort to further support the CBTTC, Gillette has joined up with three like-minded nonprofits across the country in a collaboration known as 4 Pennies – which speaks to the 4 cents of every dollar that the National Institute of Health donates to fund pediatric cancer research.
“Ninety six percent of funding goes to adults and 4 percent to all pediatric cancer research,” she said. “Our small foundation funds that research because the government doesn’t.”
While KRF looks toward supporting pediatric brain tumor researchers across the country, the local grassroots effort to raise money and awareness at home continues, and often inspires others to step up and get involved.
Charlotte Kaye, as a sophomore at Ranney School, heard about the Gillette’s story when her dancing school in Little Silver got involved in fundraising. Kaye, who had survived a childhood brain tumor, said she had always wanted to find a way to get involved and give something back. She and her friends started a three-hour danceathon at their school that year. By the time Kaye graduated three years later, she had helped to raise $22,000 toward pediatric brain tumor research.
Monmouth Park, an early sponsor and host to KRF events, continues to proudly support the fundraising efforts, said Brian Skirka, the track’s marketing director.
“To be able to support a local organization like the Kortney Rose Foundation from the early stages to now is something special – to see how the event has grown and how much money is raised for pediatric brain cancer research,” he said. “So much of Kortney’s Challenge is based on community support and Monmouth Park is happy to be a part of that.”
The borough community, staff, local groups and elected officials have also been involved with the KRF since the beginning, hosting dinners, supporting fundraising efforts in local schools and turning up to new events, such as the Pony Up for Kids family event in May.
Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey, who met the Gillettes in 2005 when their children played soccer together, remembers Kortney as a fun-loving girl filled with energy and enthusiasm.
“Our town is lucky to have people like the Gillettes,” he said. “They’ve made something positive out of an incredibly tragic situation. The whole town has really rallied behind Kortney’s Challenge. It’s a wonderful thing to remember a beautiful little girl. I can’t think of a more worthy cause.”
The 13th annual Kortney’s Challenge Fun Walk Run at Monmouth Park will take place 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 5. Online registration for the event is currently available at the foundation’s website thekortneyrosefoundation.org.
Gillette and her family are hopeful for another successful year, as they continue to fund research to help doctors to help kids.
“We are beyond grateful to our community who has helped us to donate over $1.7 million dollars to research,” Gillette said.
This article first appeared in the July 12 – 19, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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