Aruna participants run for more than themselves

Aruna participants run for more than themselves

Image Credit: Jacqui Hershberger

When Jen Doerfler ran her first Aruna Run in 2015, she actually wept for much of the race. Ryan Berg, co-founder of the Aruna Project and a 1999 Dalton High grad, shared the mission behind Aruna before the race started, and it moved Doerfler to tears.

The Aruna Project is an international human rights nonprofit based in Cincinnati. Its mission is to free, employ and empower sexually enslaved women in India. They mobilize races all over the United States to raise awareness about the harsh reality of sex trafficking and generate money to aid in the freedom process.

This year was Doerfler’s sixth year of being the director for the Dalton Aruna Run, which was held Oct. 9. Jeff and Lindsay Rettig of Orrville have helped Doerfler since her first year as race director.

“A few months after that race (in 2015), Ryan asked if I would take over as director of the Dalton Aruna Run,” Doerfler said. “I initially laughed because that was my first race ever and I knew nothing about putting a 5k together, but Ryan reassured me that my passion for the cause was far more important and that I would learn the rest. So I said yes and immersed myself in the running world by signing up for all the 5ks in the area. I took lots of notes and learned from other races, and I also developed a love for running.

“This year all of the Dalton Aruna participants ran for Nisha. She was chosen by the Aruna Project. Aruna knows this woman through outreach programs in the brothels, and they are working hard to free, empower and employ her.”

At this year’s race, 165 participants laced up their shoes for the cause. Some, including Dalton High teacher Zach McFarren, even took on an extra challenge and donned a weighted vest for the 5k race.

With this race alone, $17,195 was raised for Nisha’s freedom. An award also was given to the individual who raised the most funds for Aruna. Ella Jackson, a fifth-grader at Dalton Middle School, raised $363.25 and received a watercolor painting of two of the Aruna artisans and a gift basket donated by Hannah Haydn of @hairbyhannah.

Giveaway items at this race including an athletic drawstring backpack and a universal gator were all made by Aruna artisans, women who have been freed from sex trafficking.

This year’s race started and finished at P Graham Dunn in Dalton.

“About a year ago we started planning the 2021 Dalton Aruna Run,” Doerfler said. “At the time Dalton Local Schools (the previous host) was not allowing outside activities because of COVID-19, so we needed to find another venue. I reached out to P Graham Dunn to see if they would be interested in allowing us to have our race on their beautiful property. Doug Winkler was fantastic to work with the last few months.

“Traditionally, I wouldn’t prefer a turnaround course, but we didn’t have another option that we felt was safe for participants. The hills are challenging on Arnold Road, but participants should be proud of what they accomplished.”

Along the race route, there were signs to encourage participants and to have them shout out Nisha’s name. Before the race started, Doerfler, like Berg had done before her first race, reminded participants why they were running. She also told more of Nisha’s story and led a prayer for her.

“I think we would all agree that human trafficking is terrible, and if you think about it long enough, it can make you feel sick,” Doerfler said. “Participating in an Aruna Run is such an easy way to fight against human trafficking.

“I may never meet these women on this side of the earth, but there is a great joy that comes from knowing that we play a small role in helping these women find freedom, hope and their voice.”

To help plan the next Dalton Aruna Run, email Doerfler at or call 330-465-7263.