Courtney Cooperman started writing poetry almost as soon as she could write. Still only in seventh grade and about to celebrate becoming a bat mitzva on Nov. 27, she has just come out with her first collection.
It is titled Inspired, My Life (so far) in Poems.
As part of her bat mitzva project, the Millburn Middle School student is donating the proceeds from the book to support SPARK Academy, a charter school in Newark where she has been volunteering as a homework helper.
“I’m so excited about my book, and I really like that something I enjoy doing so much is going to help other children get the pleasure of reading and writing,” she said.
The slender 12-year-old with big, dark eyes is taking it all in stride. After all, she has been getting acclaim for her poems for years. This past summer, her poem “The Last Last Day” was published in Stone Soup, the prestigious magazine by and for young writers and artists.
Courtney has also been raising funds for good causes for years. In third grade, she formed the “Peace Friendship Club” with friends at her school. The next year, “because we were bored one day,” she said, she suggested the club take on a social service project through the service organization Hoop-A-Paluza, and other groups.
At first there were five girls in the club; now there are 14. “It’s been fun. It’s a good way to spend time together, and I think doing these projects has made us really close friends,” she said.
She believes that “the purpose of life is helping other people,” she said, and brought out her “favorite gift ever” — a card made by one of the children she has helped with his homework. It came with two postcards of thanks from his teachers, and a bright orange-yellow SPARK shirt.
“It let me know I made a difference in someone’s life,” she said.
Courtney’s philanthropy is nestled in a family tradition of service. Her parents, Jodi and Wayne, support various causes, including United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
“I’m just really glad that Courtney — and her younger sister, Kyra — have an interest in helping other people,” said Jodi, a teacher specializing in reading, a volunteer with a number of community projects, and a social action supporter through the family’s synagogue, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, where they live.
Courtney’s mother has guided her daughter’s service goals with the same encouragement she provided for her writing, and it was through her father that she got interested in SPARK.
Wayne’s parents are the philanthropists for whom the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange is named. “It is admittedly hard for a loving and proud grandfather to be totally objective about Courtney and her poetry,” said Leon. “However, if you take the time to read her poems, I’m sure you will agree that her talent and sensitivity illustrate how especially talented she is.”
Putting his money where his naches is, he bought and sent copies of Inspired to all his investment clients. With a big smile, Courtney said that one of those clients bought a few hundred to send out too.
Her mother said she was worried about the effect of all the acclaim coming Courtney’s way, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue. She has been reading her poems to some pretty large audiences for a while now, or having them read. This past Yom Kippur, as he has done over the years, B’nai Jeshurun’s Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz read the congregation a poem she wrote about forgiveness.
“I am mystified how it is that a person of Courtney’s age can so articulately and creatively intuit the subtle undertones of life and society,” said Gewirtz. “Her soul is for sure one that is older than her years here on earth.”
Courtney sent a copy of her book to Newark Mayor Cory Booker. “This book stands alone as an achievement worth attention but combined with its mission, it is a blessing,” he responded.
Inspired: My Life (so far) in Poems is available at authorhouse.com and can be purchased directly from the author by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $18. For more information about Courtney, her book, and her mitzva service project, visit www.inspiredbycourtney.com.