HIGHLAND PARK – While most five-year-olds were busy having tea parties and baking in their Easy-Bake Ovens, Gabriella Cooperman started her own cookie and lemonade stand, Cookies for Charity, to provide therapeutic horseback riding for special needs children at Equestrian Connection in west Lake Forest.
Now 17, Gabriella was recently honored with the Helen Diller Family Foundation’s Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award. The annual award is given to 15 Jewish U.S. teens for exceptional leadership and engagement in service projects to make the world a better place.
“I’m honored and humbled to be a 2017 recipient, and so appreciative of being recognized for all of my hard work,” said Gabriella. “I plan on using the $36,000 scholarship for my education and to further the impact of Cookies for Charity.”
Gabriella is no stranger to JWC Media. At 12, she appeared on the cover of Forest & Bluff magazine in August 2012. She said by that year she had raised $13,000 and had seven corporate sponsors. Today, Cookies for Charity has raised more than $130,000 and has 20 some corporate sponsors.
DailyNorthShore recently caught up with Gabriella:
DNS: Tikkun Olam is defined by acts of kindness used to perfect or change the world. Please briefly explain how Cookies for Charity exemplifies this.
Gabriella: Cookies for Charity donates 100 percent of all proceeds to sponsoring children for therapeutic horseback riding, also called hippotherapy, at Equestrian Connection in Lake Forest. These children need the therapy but can’t afford it. Hippotherapy benefits the rider emotionally, physically, mentally and socially. And when you see a child experience such happiness from riding a horse, that changes you and therefore the world changes.
DNS: Describe your sister Danielle’s reaction to going horseback riding at Equestrian Connection that led to your decision to raise money to help her and other disabled children when you were only 5 years old.
Gabriella: My younger sister Danielle loved being on the therapeutic horse from the very first time. Although she couldn’t speak, you could see the excitement in her eyes. I watched my sister show a level of joy she wasn’t able to before and after riding the horse, she began producing sounds. Eventually the therapeutic horseback riding at Equestrian Connection helped my sister walk and talk. And Danielle continues to ride at Equestrian Connection even now as it helps with her other special needs.
My mom always says Equestrian Connection sprinkles pixie dust on the kids before each ride as the place is truly magical.
DNS: What was your first lemonade stand like?
Gabriella: For my first lemonade stand in 2005, people thought my effort was cute and I would probably raise no more than $50. I’m known for my determination, even when I was 5 years old, and raised $500. I believe age should never be a determining factor in making a difference in this world. That’s what Tikkun Olam is all about – making a difference and repairing the world.
DNS: What is your secret to raising money? Is it the fresh lemonade, delicious cookies, the fact that you’re a 17-year-old sales dynamo, or all of the above?
Gabriella: The main secret is the extreme generosity of people in our community and the continued support from the corporate sponsors. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that my mom’s famous Heath Bar crunch chocolate chip cookies are slightly addictive!
DNS: Does your mom do all of the baking, or do you and other family members pitch in? What is the top selling cookie?
Gabriella: My mom and I bake together and others chip in with bagging the over 6,000 cookies we bake. My dad and sister enjoy eating the “manufacturer defects.” The Heath Bar crunch chocolate chip cookies are the top seller, and in 2009 we added a nut-free alternative, chewy sugar cookies.
DNS: Where is Cookies for Charity located in Highland Park and is there a minimum amount per order?
Gabriella: The 12th Cookies for Charity is on September 9th and 10th, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Cookies for Charity is located on the corner of Lakeside Place and Sheridan Road in Highland Park; two blocks east of Ravinia Music Festival’s back gate. There is no minimum amount per order unless you are out of town, as we also do mail order.
.DNS: What are you most looking forward to during your senior year at Highland Park High School?
Gabriella: I’m most excited about another year with my friends in HPHS and USY (United Synagogue Youth).
DNS: What are your plans after high school?
Gabriella: Attending a university to pursue my love of theater and business.
Here is some background information on the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards provided by the Helen Diller Family Foundation:
- Now in its 11th year, the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have given more than $3 million to 99 Jewish teens who are tackling global issues and creating lasting change through Tikkun Olam.
- Teens who are leading a volunteer service project in their community are encouraged to check out awards such as the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards and go to www.dillerteenawards.org.
- Award money can be used for college or to further implement the recipient’s vision of making the world a better place—there are “no strings attached.”