You don't need muscles to change the world — you just need a heart. And a 12-year-old Syosset girl is proving what a heart she has.
Gabrielle Sklar was sitting at the dinner table when her mother mentioned the life and death battle her Sportime tennis coach TJ Harvey, 58, was facing against bladder cancer. In addition to fighting a cancer that has the worst recurrence rate, Harvey's part-time status at work did not qualify him for health insurance, putting him in the same void as one out of six Americans.
"When I described what TJ was going through, right away Gabby asked how she could help," her mother, Sandra, recalls.
Gabby Sklar is a giggly, chatty seventh grader at Southwoods Middle School in Syosset, NY. And while her days are packed with after-school activities including tennis, piano, and singing lessons, Gabrielle's mission was clear: help Harvey.
"It's the best it could get," she says of combining a feeling of accomplishment with helping someone in need.
Susan Stix, a clinical social worker in Roslyn, NY, says it’s important that children learn the gift of charity. “It makes them have a deeper sense of connection, and they learn that such a little gesture can make a big difference.”
Gabby created a plan. She would begin by asking her friends to donate. The best way to entice them to give? Give them a good time! Have a pool party!
The weather was as warm as the hearts she attracted. Gabby set out a bucket of "love." And into it, friends poured in ones, fives, tens, even twenties. At the end of the party, Gabrielle had raised $300 for the beloved tennis coach.
"We made a party with a purpose, instead of just a party," mother Sandra Sklar notes.
But Gabby wasn't done yet. Fueled by her success, she summoned the courage to approach a local pizza parlor, Zio's Italian Grill and Pizzeria on Cold Spring Road in Syosset. Owner Marcello Caccialino was touched by Gabby's act of kindness and supplied his own. In the form of zeppoles. Three hundred of them — that enterprising Gabby could sell to the public.
"Sometimes you have to give back. I lost a father-in-law to cancer, and thought was a nice thing that the kids were getting involved," says Caccialino.
But where to sell them? The savvy young businesswoman knew she needed a place with lots of foot traffic. She asked the management at Stop and Shop in Oyster Bay if she could set up a table in front of the supermarket, and got the go-ahead.
So while other kids were messing around at the mall, Gabrielle and two recruits were turning dough into donations. They came home with another $500.
"It made me feel really proud that I could do something," said Gabby.
"She had a lot of compassion, and she felt good about doing good," Sandra Sklar recalled.
The next step was to present Harvey with the money. Gabby was off to sleepaway camp, leaving her mother to spring the surprise. Carrying a tray full of brownies, Sandra Sklar met TJ for lunch at Mim's. But the real treat
was in the love bucket — all the money her daughter had collected for him. Harvey was overwhelmed.
"It's humanitarian, it’s empathic, and it’s generous. It lifted me above the clouds and made me want to fight harder," he said.
Harvey has made it a point to live his own life generously. There is no clock when he gives his "hour-long" lessons. They're done when the student "gets it." And students routinely say they learn more in one hour from him than from a year of lessons with other teachers.
"TJ treats everyone like an advanced player, so you become one," notes Karen Schoenbart, the president and COO of NPD Group and a long-time student of Harvey's.
Harvey readily accepts players into his practice group that other tennis coaches may be reluctant to take on. They include students with birth defects, hearing disability, and Parkinson's disease.
"Those players inspire other players to do their best," Harvey says.
The giving experience turned out to be as important to Gabrielle as it was for Harvey. One heart helping another heart. And as we all know, two hearts are better than one.
"I'm not going to stop," says Gabby.
To make a donation to TJ Harvey‘s fight against cancer, go to http://www.giveforward.com/tjharvey