A Family's Tragedy Turned to Hope
Using art and music to save lives
Nikhil Badlani, an 11 year old, sixth grader from West Orange, NJ, was an exemplary student and son. He was a talented musician and actor, he excelled in his studies, particularly in mathematics, and was loved by many. Sadly, his short, inspirational life ended abruptly when one driver made a poor decision.
On June 11, 2011, Nikhil and his father were traveling in their van, not far from their home. As they approached an intersection, their van was struck causing it to roll over. An oncoming car then hit the car a second time.
Nikhil’s father received treatment for injuries; however, Nikhil did not survive. The cause of the crash? A distracted driver. Failing to stop at the intersection, they blew right past a stop sign, striking the Badlani’s van.
Those few seconds changed the Badlani family and their community forever.
Shortly after the crash, friends poured out their hearts to express their sorrow.
“You were all I could ask for as a friend and more,” said one mourner.
“I miss you,” said a 6th grade classmate.
“You would’ve gone on to do spectacular things. I will never forget you,” another added.
Nikhil’s band teacher said, “You were a talented trumpet player, an aspiring actor, a leader and a scholar – straight A’s. Your band room cubby will remain vacant bearing your name tag.”
“After the funeral, when friends and family were gathered at our home, devastated by the tragedy, Nikhil’s uncle suggested we start a foundation in Nikhil’s memory,” said Nikhil’s mother, Sangeeta Badlani.
“Education and traffic safety awareness became our number one goal, but because of Nikhil’s love of music, we also wanted to provide free music lessons to need-based students,” Sangeeta continued. “The West Orange Fine Arts Department Supervisor supported our idea and has been our partner since the inception of the Foundation.”
In July of 2011, Sangeeta formed the Nikhil Badlani Foundation.
Sixth through twelfth grade West Orange students who display musical talent and promise, but have financial limitations, are eligible for the Music for Nikhil program. Each week, the program provides hour-long sessions at no cost to need-based students and at a reduced cost for others. Since its first year, the initiative has from 20 students to 53.
“Nikhil loved to play his trumpet, and a few weeks before the accident had been accepted to play in the Youth Orchestra of Essex County Orchestra,” said Sangeeta. “He was so excited about starting trumpet lessons. His first lesson was to be held on June 15. Sadly he never got to realize his dream.”
To support local students further, the Foundation created the Nikhil Badlani Scholarship program, which provides monetary awards to West Orange High School seniors who demonstrate academic achievement, good character, artistic ability, and community involvement, in addition to financial need. “We had four scholarship winners this year,” said Sangeeta, “and we were able to give them $2,000 each toward their college careers. Selected students are not only chosen for their strong academic performance, but also their involvement in music and/or drama.”
Aiming to develop a fun, creative and impactful way to educate teens on driver safety, the Foundation started the Traffic Safety Artwork Project. With the help of supporters like State Farm Insurance, the Foundation helps students brainstorm what traffic safety looks like to them. The students then translate their ideas into sketches for inclusion in a final artwork.
With the help of local artist Cindy Klein, the artwork is transformed into colorful murals – some as big as 6X6 feet - to be displayed at the school and/or public places, such as town libraries, shopping plazas, or rest areas. This year for National Youth Traffic Safety Month, New Jersey Transit buses, light rails and train stations throughout Essex County displayed posters of the artwork.
Through the duration of the program, the Foundation visits students a minimum of three times, providing teen driver safety education while the students create their projects.
“Nikhil spoke very passionately about how some drivers did not respect the rules of the road,” said Nikhil’s father, Sunil Badlani. “A few hours before on the day of the accident, Nikhil had commented on how a driver was speeding and weaving. His loss cannot be in vain and should be an awakening to all drivers on the road.”