DEMAREST, NJ — The organizers of a "Walk or Bike to School Initiative" in Demarest have earned an award from New Jersey Safe Routes to School.
Jill Besnoy, Eileen Celaj and Noelle Tutunjian launched the project last year to get kids elementary and middle school children to exercise while reducing carbon emissions.
As a reward, students are entered into a monthly raffle for prizes such as movie tickets, mini golf or bowling. A recent prizes was a night out with friends at Westwood Sports Academy.
“I enjoy it and it is great exercise for me, too. I love to walk," said Rebecca La Pira, a realtor with Remax who is also the director of the borough Recreation Commission.
"We wanted to make a positive impact on the community," Besnoy said. "We remind students every Tuesday and they put their names in a jar on Wednesday."
Arranging walks throughout the school year is no easy task, with the kindergarteners and first-graders attending in one building and second- and third-graders in another.
“When I was growing up, it was a larger town, so we had buses,” said La Pira, who has an 8-year-old son, Luke and a 6-year-old daughter, Mallor and administers the Demarest Moms Facebook page.
Dedicated crossing guards help them at intersections.
“I think it’s a nice way for my son and [me] to talk in the morning without the distraction of cars and traffic," La Pira said. "It’s a great way to have a conversation."
La Pira also started a walking group for moms through the Recreation Commission. The group meets Thursday mornings near the Demarest train station. Some parents bring their children in stroller for the hour-long excursion.
“I think it’s important to have our kids be active in a day an age when they want to stay at home and play video games," La Pira said. "Basically you and your family get off the couch, get out, and enjoy the community together.
“I hope to keep it up.”