Making a Difference Across New Jersey
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Eric Houghtaling leads by example. As a past mayor of Neptune, New Jersey, and a six-year former New Jersey state legislator, he understands how to bring towns, politicians, and the public together for critical causes. And for him, one of the most important causes is raising awareness and research funding for pancreatic cancer.
Eric was the mayor in 2013 when his friend and colleague Tom Arnone, Director, Monmouth County Board of Commissioners, asked him to issue a proclamation declaring November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month across Monmouth County—a proclamation he later enacted across the entire state of New Jersey during his tenure as a state legislator. When Eric’s mayoral term ended in 2014, he reached out to Tom again because they both knew people who had passed away from pancreatic cancer. In fact, Eric’s sister-in-law’s father died from it, and he wasn’t correctly diagnosed until the disease had metastasized. Eric and Tom knew how urgently more attention and funding was needed to fight this disease in their neighboring communities.
Together, Eric and Tom established Pound the Pavement for Purple to raise awareness of, and funding for, pancreatic cancer research through an annual certified 5k run/2-mile walk. The event is presented by the Neptune Township Committee and the Monmouth County Board of Commissioners every fall. Eric was committed to donating money raised from the event to the Lustgarten Foundation after learning about the Foundation’s policy of directing 100% of donations to research.
When Pound the Pavement for Purple was first created, Eric had just been involved with building a veterans’ memorial park in Neptune, and he and Tom agreed it was the perfect venue for the inaugural event. The park was home to the walk/run for three years, attracting more than 200 participants each year. At first, Eric didn’t know what kind of response the event would get, but he and Tom have been fortunate to have so many participants, as well as several members who have joined their planning committee and who continue to contribute their time and expertise every year.
To provide a more conducive route for running and to accommodate more participants as word of the event spread, Eric and Tom moved their fundraiser to the Headliner Night Club in Neptune along the Shark River that runs through Neptune and Neptune City. It is an official timed race, and prizes are awarded to the top three finishers in different age groups for the 5-mile run. Following the run/walk, attendees participate in a 50/50 raffle, bid on gift baskets donated by event sponsors, and relax with a barbecue and a drink outside the Headliner. Now, the event attracts 600-700 people annually and has raised nearly $600,000 to date for the Lustgarten Foundation since it started in 2014.
Each year, Eric looks forward to speaking with the attendees and being a part of honoring and remembering their loved ones. Teams join and return repeatedly because they feel bonded to others who have gone through what their families have. Having lost his own sister to cancer, Eric empathizes with the devastating loss they have experienced. Eric is also inspired by the pancreatic cancer survivors who courageously share their stories at the event.
“Pound the Pavement for Purple is so unique because it is planned and led by elected town and county officials, representing different sides of the political spectrum, who are dedicated to working together to shine a spotlight on this life-threatening disease in their community,” Eric shared. “We want pancreatic cancer patients and their families to have more hope, more time together, and through the innovative research funded by the Lustgarten Foundation, more opportunities for long-term survival.”