Franklin Lakes Teen Teaches Skiing to Help Kids Heal
The idea came to Cory Gorczycki on a chairlift near the end of the ski season a few years ago. Missing his grandparents who had both passed away a few months prior, Cory, then 15, started to think about blending his love of skiing with their lifelong dedication to helping others and the solution was simple: Teach kids going through difficult times how to ski.
“Learning to ski is a challenge,” says Franklin Lakes native Cory, now 17. “It’s daunting. You have to focus 100 percent on your skis and the trail in front of you, but when you finally make it down the hill it’s an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I wanted to give other kids that experience of joy I feel when I ski.”
From the seed planted that day came Ski4All, a nonprofit organization that provides free ski days to kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it, providing them with equipment, lessons and an unforgettable experience. But at the onset, when Cory’s organization needed funds, it wasn’t an easy sell to potential donors.
“Skiing has this reputation as a sport for wealthy people because of the cost of equipment, clothing and lessons, but I wanted to show them that it’s actually a healthy outdoor activity that boosts self-esteem and confidence. Learning to ski teaches kids that when you fall down, you get back up again and keep going.”
During Ski4All’s first winter of 2016-2017, Cory organized ski days to Campgaw Mountain in Mahwah for kids in foster care from Children’s Aid and Family Services and according to Cory, at first, it was intimidating for them.
“They put on all of their equipment, went to the bottom of the mountain, looked up and you could see they were a little scared,” he says.
But after spending time on the beginners’ hill, learning how to control their skis, turn and stop, their moods changed quickly.
“As they were learning the process, the smiles on their faces began to grow, and they were really enjoying themselves,” he says. “Most of them didn’t want to leave when it was time to go.”
The program was a success, and that year, Children’s Aid gave Cory their Youth Leadership Award for his efforts.
“We are grateful to Cory for sharing his passion for skiing with the teenagers in our foster care, most of whom have never experienced the joy of skiing before,” says Sara Huisking, vice president of development. “Learning new skills helps build confidence, and skiing is a wonderful outlet for their energy.”
A senior at Hackley School in Tarrytown, Cory has reached out to his fellow students for donations and is amazed by the support.
“The skiers need jackets and outdoor gear, so I started a clothing drive and got a remarkable response from the middle and upper school families,” he says. “I also gave a talk to the students about pursuing an idea when it comes to you and the importance of going after what you dream.”
Since then, friends have reached out to help.
“One friend, in particular, came out for a few days to help teach and ski with the kids. They seem to really relate to us because we’re closer in age to them.”
Last winter, Cory organized nine ski days benefiting more than 100 children from New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, including kids from a residential treatment center, foster care, first-generation American children and boys and girls clubs. He has taken them to such area mountains as Campgaw, Catamount, Mountain Creek and Mount Peter. Cory negotiates with the ski areas for reduced rates for lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons and has raised more than $9,000.
“I have received a lot of support from local businesses and organizations like the Oakland/Franklin Lakes Rotary Club, TD Bank and the New Jersey Ski & Snowboard Council, to name a few,” he says.
They have also skied at National Winter Activity Center in Vernon, New Jersey, which has programs for youths to help improve their health and fitness through winter sports activities.
“They offer three-week programs on consecutive weekends,” Cory says. “This is great because the kids get to come back and build on their skiing skills over those three weeks. Many of them graduate from the beginner hill to skiing the slopes off of the chairlift,” he says.
Cory has earned the Congressional Award Silver Medal, the President’s Gold Medal for Volunteer Service and the New Jersey State Governor’s Jefferson Award for Public Service. While the accolades are nice, Cory sees their value in a different way.
“It really just validates Ski4All and makes it easier for me to approach even more mountains and donors to pitch the program. It helps me build it to become something bigger and add more kids.”
And the benefits can be seen every time one of the kids puts on a pair of skis for the first time.
“I can’t even begin to imagine the difficult circumstances these kids are coming from, but to see them step out of that for a little while and learn something new and challenging, it’s really inspiring,” Cory says. “It’s great to see how happy they are when they’re out there; that’s what keeps me coming back.”