Award-winning Chicago teen baker raises $150,000

Teenager inspired to raise money after seeing how horse-riding therapy helped her sister


Like many children, Gabriella Cooperman has memories of selling homemade lemonade and cookies outside her front door, but she was also slightly more ambitious than most. When she was only five, Ms Cooperman set up her own Cookies for Charity stand with the modest goal of raising $500.

Fast forward 12 years and Ms Cooperman, who is now 17, has been awarded the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award for raising more than $150,000 (£115,000) for children with special needs.

Money raised by the stall each year helps to fund horseback-riding therapy for children at the Equestrian Connection near Lake Forest, Chicago.

She said she was inspired to start her own charity after seeing how positively her younger sister Danielle, who has special needs, had responded to the therapy.

“I saw her ride a horse for the first time and it was life changing,” Ms Cooperman said. “Doctors told my parents she might never walk but on the horse we saw the movement she got. She sat up straight.”

She added: “Like any young kid I wanted to raise money for the therapy so that other children could benefit.”

Once a year she sells her mum’s peanut butter and chocolate chip recipe cookies to people from the local community.

“People thought I might raise 50 bucks, but it has turned into a huge event that people look forward to each year,” MsCooperman told the JC.

The senior at Highland Park High School, who works on her charitable endeavours in her spare time, has even found more than 22 corporate sponsors for her efforts.

Some make financial contributions and others provide ingredients.

Ms Cooperman said: “When I was 8, I asked my parents how come the United Centre is named after an airline, and they explained it was through corporate sponsorship. I ended up writing letters to big bosses, ranging from local businesses to Fortune 500 companies...If you don’t ask you don’t get.” 

She added: “I should probably get a bit more sleep than I do, but then I’m young, I don’t really need it.”

Ms Cooperman’s reputation is such that she hopes to raise $20,000 (£15,300) at her next cookie sale, buoyed by word of mouth and networking among her friends. Ms Cooperman and her mother spend months baking in advance of the sales, then employ peers each year to man the stall to cope with the demand.

“We will run out of the pre-prepared batch and will have to make more over the weekend,” she said.

The teenager will receive $36,000 (£27,500) as part of her Tikkun Olam award and plans to spend it on her college education and contribute 10 per cent to her charity.

The annual awards have given more than $3 million (£2.3 million) over the past 11 years to 99 Jewish teens who are “tackling global issues and creating lasting change through tikkun olam”.

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