By Jeffrey Bessen
LILacrosseNews.com, Posted 12/19/11
“Charity begins at home,” the old saying goes and in the Cold Spring Harbor house of Dave Kotowski, a financial consultant and former pro lacrosse player, those words are turned into action.
Kotowski, one of the founders of Team Elevate and a coach, has instilled in his three daughters and players that it is much better to give than receive. A Cold Spring Harbor-based girls’ lacrosse travel club, Team Elevate has several teams of varying age groups.
Through his involvement with Christmas Magic/Holiday Magic, a charity founded in 1990 by Hauppauge attorney Charlie Russo, Kotowski and his players bring a bit of holiday joy to homeless children.
“For the players, it is that they always have a sense about giving back, and there are always people who have it worse than they do,” said Kotowski, explaining what his players learn by being involved in this charitable cause. “When they see people in a tough patch they truly appreciate what they have.”
After meeting Russo in 1996, Kotowski, who played for the New York Saints (1998-’99), was involved in running the Long Island Lizards (2005-’08) and plays ice hockey, has thrown his efforts into assisting with an endeavor that brings gifts to 7,500 homeless children throughout Long Island.
It begins with the children writing letters to Santa Claus. Older children have computers, boots, jeans and coats on their wish lists, while younger kids will want a Barbie doll or a bicycle. The charity does all it can to fulfill every request.
“I’m an emotional person; I can’t read these letters without crying,” said Kotowski, who added that though the children are homeless and live in shelters, they attend public schools and have the same wants and needs as other kids.
Five-year-old Team Elevate does its share of collecting gifts and monetary donations (those are given to Holiday Magic), wrapping the presents, then delivering them with Santa Kotowski and his elves.
The players earn community service hours, but gain a great deal more.
“I just think it is a great perspective to know how lucky I am and to give back, it is really important,” said Victoria Kotowski, Dave’s oldest daughter and a senior at Cold Spring Harbor High School, who is her fourth year of helping with the charitable effort. “It says a lot about my dad.”
Victoria, a midfielder, has signed with Lehigh next fall. She was the first of Kotowski’s daughters to first play lacrosse when in kindergarten.
Though it’s difficult to know that children endure the hardship of homelessness, Team Elevate attack Delaney O’Keefe, a sophomore at Syosset, said to see the children receive their gifts is wonderful.
“It makes me happy to see their eyes light up; it’s an amazing feeling,” said O’Keefe. “It’s just a great thing to do. It’s really hard on everyone, but it makes a difference you can tell.”
As many as 60 people are at Team Elevate’s wrapping parties, ranging in age from elementary school children to adults. Last week the team delivered presents that will go to about 4,000 children and in all, they will deliver enough for 10,000 children by Christmas.
Cold Spring Harbor Junior High School seventh-grader Katie Kotowski, Dave’s middle daughter, said being at the homeless shelter is not painless as the older children understand where they are, but it becomes a little easier when they receive the gifts.
“I just think it’s a great feeling that you made someone’s day,” she said.
The youngest of Kotowski’s daughters, Allie, a sixth-grader at Lloyd Harbor Elementary School, also finds the experience uplifting.
“I think it’s really great to give kids presents and it’s really fun to see the looks on their face,” she said.
Initially, the words didn’t come easily when Kotowski was asked what it means to him to participate in Holiday Magic, and then he said: “When I first did this and you see the kids, you can’t not help them.
“The fact that I have so many supportive people so willing to help just means the world to me.”
It also means the world for those children who receive gifts.