NORTH BRUNSWICK – Harrison Kaye remembers his first day of sixth grade.
It was 2006, and he had to adjust to moving to a new school, meeting new friends and taking new classes.
He and his friend were talking to each other outside of English class at Linwood Middle School. With his back to the door, he was surprised when his friend stopped what she was saying and remarked how pretty their new teacher was.
“It was my first day of school – what an awesome first impression to have even before I saw her,” Kaye, now 24, said of Aubrey Pappas.
“She was really pretty, really vibrant, and I think she portrayed that to all of us students, to always be smiling,” he said.
Reminiscing back to his middle school days, Kaye, a New York Mets fan, said he laughed upon seeing Pappas’s lifesize cut out of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter – who he said she called her husband.
“Even though she was a Yankees fan, and a big Derek Jeter fan, I felt it really connected me with her,” the former baseball player said.
Kaye said Pappas taught his class how to write in a more “grown up” fashion as compared to elementary school. He said he became more mature as a student, and started a writing portfolio she stressed.
One of his favorite assignments was not only creating a class cookbook, but then having each student cook a meal according to the instructions – a lesson, he said, in learning to share ideas well enough so that others could understand.
Pappas and her unborn son passed away in October 2014 after a tragic motor vehicle accident. Since then, The Aubrey Foundation was established and has organized the Purple for Pappas 5K each year in her honor. This year’s event will be held on Oct. 20 at North Brunswick Community Park, 2053 Route 130 south; the rain date is Oct. 26.
Opening ceremonies will take place at 9:30 a.m. Beginning at 10 a.m., more than 450 runners and walkers are expected to participate on the USATF-certified course, which will also be the site for local vendors to support race participants.
“It’s a day to celebrate her and remember her impact and how she had a positive impact,” Kaye said. “It’s about seeing her live in all of us and the impact she had.”
Kaye said Pappas taught the pre-teens about life, about how to treat others well, how to work together with classmates on group assignments, and to always help someone have a good day.
Lori Kaye, Harrison’s mother and a member of The Aubrey Foundation, said the 5K event does just that: it helps everyone remember, cope, and have an enjoyable day together.
“I always remember her smile and the glimmer in her eyes. She had a passion about her, no matter what child she was talking to or what she was doing. She exuded such positivity and energy,” Lori Kaye said. “She’s missed very much among her teachers, her family and her friends.”
Over the past five years, The Aubrey Foundation has raised more than $35,000 in Pappas’s memory. Funds have been put toward scholarships at North Brunswick Township High School, Wreaths Across America and to replace a firetruck destroyed in a warehouse fire in 2015.
“I want to thank the entire North Brunswick community for standing behind my family through these very hard years,” said Aubrey’s husband Paul Pappas, who is a detective with the North Brunswick Police Department. “We are truly thankful for the support of the foundation.”
Pappas said his wife would “light up the room with her energy.” He said she “had this spark about her,” and besides being beautiful, “she made everyone feel special and important.”
He plans to attend the 5K with his son Anthony, now 7, as they do every year.
“I’m very grateful to the members of the foundation and the community for keeping Aubrey’s memory alive. She would be honored,” he said.
Another initiative established by the foundation was the implementation during the 2018-19 school year of The Aubrey Pappas Club at Linwood. In cooperation with the North Brunswick Board of Education, the foundation sought to create a club that would help to perpetuate Aubrey’s memory by fulfilling goals that align with the #LiveLikeAubrey mission. Students who participate in the club have held fundraisers, created acts of kindness activities, and will be assisting with the 5K by creating encouraging signs to motivate racers along the course.
“This started out as a great healing process for all of us … and now we are just so inspired and so humbled, five years later,” said Lauren Romano, who is Paul’s cousin and a member of the executive board of The Aubrey Foundation.
According to Romano, the 2018-19 school year’s graduating high school seniors were the last who had Pappas as a teacher. However, she said because “she was such a powerful and empowering person … people can take a piece of that and do overall good in the world,” whether they knew Pappas or not.
“Aubrey had a huge extended family and a ton of friends, and every single person was different, but she was the same, she was the ray of light,” Romano said. “Aubrey was a phenomenal teacher. If I get to be half as good as she was, that would be an accomplishment. She cared about her students so deeply.”
Romano co-founded the organization with her sister, Cristin Cowley, and their cousin Maria Millner.
Millner said she continues to hear stories about Pappas and “it’s amazing to see how people get behind this because they really believe in the amazing person she was, and that is a testament to her.”
Harrison Kaye said he will be wearing his “Live Like Aubrey” bracelet to the race, as he wears everyday, to keep that piece of Pappas with him.
“The bracelet is a little reminder every day that you can Live Like Aubrey and try to make every day a little bit better,” he said.
For registration information, visit www.theaubreyfoundation.org.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.