To know Gabriella Cooperman is to absolutely fall in love with her.
On August 25–26, for the seventh year in a row, 12-year-old Gabriella Cooperman is hosting a lemonade and cookie stand to raise money for a cause close to her heart, Equestrian Connection. Equestrian Connection is a therapeutic riding facility located in west Lake Forest that has treated her younger sister, Danielle, since she was 2 years old. Danielle was born with hypotonia, a condition that prevented her from walking or talking until she was 4 years old. “When Danielle got on a horse for the first time, something changed in her,” says the mother of these girls, Dena Cooperman. “She sat up a little taller; you could tell she felt stronger.”
It was almost at this same moment that older sister Gabriella knew that she wanted to help the horses that were helping Danielle. “Gabriella acted and modeled since she was 2½,” Dena says. “When she gets paid, we’ve taught her that she can treat herself to something as a reward for her work, she should save some, and she should give a little back to something she believes in,” she adds.
Today, such behavior is automatic for Gabriella, who designed and built the lemonade stand that has become a summer tradition for neighbors, classmates, and supporters of Equestrian Connection. Coupled with her mother’s Heath Bar Crunch Chocolate Chip homemade cookies (last year, Dena stopped counting how many cookies she baked when she got to 5,000), Gabriella’s lemonade stand has become quite the moneymaker, raising more than $13,000 since she poured her first paper cup.
Gabriella solicits all of her corporate sponsors on her own. “One CEO wrote me a personal check for $1,000 because he was so moved by what we were doing,” says Gabriella with her winning smile. Within just a few days, Gabriella has secured seven sponsors—the Chicago Bears, Moccio’s Pizza, Pappas Construction, RothArt Productions, Solo Cup, Sunset Foods, and the Spice House with more expected to join before the August sale. “It’s great knowing that at 12 years old, I can make a difference,” says Gabriella.
Each year, Gabriella sets a financial goal for what she’d like to raise that is double what she earned the year before. For this summer, her hopes are even higher. Her goal is to raise $9,600; $3,600 sponsors a child’s fees to train at Equestrian Connection for a year and $6,000 covers the cost of the horse.
Equestrian Connection’s stables and staff of certified therapists and instructors serve more than 220 riders weekly. The tireless volunteers and therapists fill the void of the unmet needs of the disabled through the use of 20 highly trained horses. Physically, horseback riding increases core strength and flexibility, and is most often the first time a wheelchair-restricted young person feels the freedom of movement. But emotionally, the riders connect with the horses and the staff, empowering them to feel control, independence, and self-esteem during their time of therapy and beyond.
In order to fund their ever-growing expanse of programs and services, Equestrian Connection hosts Marty’s Barn Party, an 800-person, denim-and-diamonds affair, held on the grounds within the arena. The party’s namesake, Marty Domitrovich, was one of the first board members for Equestrian Connection and was instrumental in giving the not-for-profit its legs.
Marty sadly passed away in 2008, but his legacy lives on in the form of the Barn Party and the continued involvement in Equestrian Connection of his wife and son.
Gabriella is already looking forward to the Barn Party and the financial contribution she plans to make. “She is such a sweet, special girl with a soul about her that’s amazing,” says Dena. “I love seeing the world through her eyes.”
Gabriella’s lemonade stand will be open for business Saturday, August 25 and Sunday, August 26 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the corner of Lakeside Place and Sheridan Road in Highland Park, two blocks east of the back entrance to Ravinia Music Festival.
Marty’s Barn Party is on Saturday, September 15, at Equestrian Connection. Shuttle buses will be provided from CDW at 26125 North Riverwoods Boulevard in Mettawa. To purchase tickets, email [email protected], or visit equestrianconnection.org. Online registration is available at signmeup.com/85222.
Gabriella is using Pay It Square to collect payments for Cookies for Charity. You can pay online with your credit card, a bank transfer or PayPal account. Click on this link to see the details:http://www.payitsquare.com/collect-page/6598#.UAjIBm66VSo.email.
—Ann Marie Scheidler