Two young karate students from Manalapan are using their martial arts training to raise money for children who are battling cancer.
After their grandmother died in 2005, Cayla Harris, 8, and her sister Crystal, 6, convinced Bryan Klein, owner of United Taekwondo Academy in Manalapan, that his next fundraiser should focus on cancer victims.
Klein agreed to send the proceeds from the 2007 event to The Institute for Children with Cancer and Blood Disorders.
The institute is a nonprofit organization that supports the nonmedical needs of children and their families at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, both on the Robert Wood Johnson medical campus in New Brunswick, according to the Institute's website. Those needs include counseling, transportation and informative teaching sessions.
I thought it was great, Klein said of this year's choice.
Klein established Martial Arts with Hearts, a nonprofit organization that benefits children's charities by holding an annual karate demonstration. The first demonstration was held in 2005.
Klein, who co-founded United Academies with Michael Crocco of North Brunswick, said the 2006 event to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation raised $55,000. He expects the Jan. 28 event, which will feature students from all six United schools, to raise $100,000 for the cancer charity.
This charity is very special to me, Cayla said.
Her grandmother — Meryle Harris of Freehold Township — had suffered from various forms of cancer for more than a decade, but she hid her illness from her granddaughters until a week before her death. She had beaten breast cancer years ago but then developed lung cancer and other complications. She was 59 when she died in December 2005, according to family members.
Because of Mr. Klein's choice, he made my dream come true, Cayla said.
I miss her a lot, Cayla said of her grandmother. Sometimes I go to her old house and cry. Other times I think of her and smile.
The Harris girls also brainstormed with their parents, Erin and Paul Harris, and came up with a way they could solicit more donations.
My sister and I really wanted to do something special, because nobody should have to have cancer like my grandma did, Cayla said in a letter to the Asbury Park Press. I wish no one would have to die because they have cancer.
Because this fundraiser is through karate, we wanted to do something special with karate to raise money. We thought about kicking and came up with 'Kicks for Kids,' she wrote.
The girls pledged to perform 20,000 karate kicks by the end of December in exchange for donations. Crystal said in a telephone interview that she felt good about taking part in this fundraiser, but she conceded it's tough doing all those kicks.
She's doing this, she said, because I don't want people to die.
Erin Harris, the girls' mother, has been keeping a tally of the hook kicks, side kicks and spin-crescent kicks they have launched into the air every day after school since September.
If they're not good, she doesn't count them, Cayla said.
Klein, 38, of Marlboro, praised the girls, both senior blue belts who attend Milford Brook Elementary School, for demonstrating leadership qualities and encouraging other students to think of ways to raise more money.
You don't have to be an adult to make a difference,he said.
Through his nonprofit organization, he tries to impress upon his students that you can change the world, one kick, one punch, one karate student at a time.
Western Monmouth County residents are more likely to be harmed by illnesses such as cancer than violence, he said. Working to end the disease is just as much, if not more, self-defense.
The next annual Martial Arts with Hearts fundraiser will take place January 27, 2008 at the Collins Arena on Brookdale Community College's Lincroft campus in Middletown, NJ. If you or someone you know is interested in attending, or would like to make a pledge towards this year's cause, autism research, please call Bryan Klein at 732-536-4797 or visit www.mawh.org.