Figure Skating in Harlem to honor Michelle KwanGold, Wagner, Brown, Abbott will be present at this year's celebration
"Having the opportunity to go to the gala is always special and a privilege for me," said Paula Assou, one of five high school seniors skating their final Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) performances at the April 7 gala at Trump Rink in New York's Central Park.
"It's always amazing to meet so many different Olympic skaters because they have such diverse backgrounds and they all came from different places," Assou said. "Then we're all able to connect on skating and all these skater quirks."
The honorees at this year's Skating with the Stars gala include nine-time U.S. ladies champion and five-time world champion Michelle Kwan; Jeff Tweedy, president of Sean John; and Dylan Lauren, founder and CEO of Dylan's Candy Bar.
The gala kicks off at 5:30 pm ET with the star skaters, about 30 girls from FSH and attendees enjoying open skating on the beautiful rink. Then, the FSH girls in attendance will perform. The beginner one synchronized skating team will perform a routine. Then, the advanced group, many of whom are members of FSH's open juvenile synchro team, will perform and be joined at the end by the younger skaters.
The routine is called "Get Ready," which in many ways represents what FSH, now in its 17th year, has been doing for girls ages 6-18 in the Harlem community. This season, 225 girls participated in the program that combines skating, education and fitness programs that promote academic success, physical health and emotional well being.
Founded by Sharon Cohen, FSH now runs year-round. The main program is called I Can Excel (ICE). In addition to ice time, the girls spend time in the expanded academic center. There is now a full-time director of educational readiness, Tracey Lundgren, who helps girls of all ages get into top schools. High school students receive in-depth counseling on selecting colleges and preparing their applications.
There is also the summer program with a large academic component focused on reading and writing. The rink at Riverbank State Park in Harlem is outdoors, so there is the bridge program that runs from April to August that allows those girls who are interested to skate at a rink in Queens on Sunday mornings.
"It's brought me out of my shy nature," said senior Zjana Ray, who is awaiting word on her college applications and hopes to attend a school with a skating rink in close proximity. "It has been a [life-changing] experience that has made me take control of my life, be proud of who I am and what I can do and not be afraid to go out and take things by the horns."
Both Assou and Ray, as well as the other three seniors, have been part of FSH since elementary school. In addition to getting to hang with famous skaters, one of the treats they'll receive prior to this year's gala is having their makeup done by a professional makeup artist. That will be provided by super model, actress, entrepreneur and philanthropist Iman, who has also made a generous donation to the organization.
The Olympic season provided several performance opportunities for the girls of FSH. A partnership with Citi had a small group performing in Times Square in a Sochi send-off and at Lincoln Center at a Sochi wrap-up. FSH member Zenzile Tonge appeared in a national commercial alongside Evan Lysacek. They also performed at Grand Central Station with skaters from Disney on Ice.
Other skating luminaries expected include Scott Hamilton, a longtime friend of Cohen's who was instrumental in getting FSH exposure at its inception; Sarah Hughes, a past honoree; Timothy Goebel, an FSH coach during his college years at Columbia; Sasha Cohen, who last year donated skates from her Sasha Cohen for Klingbeil line; as well as Paul Wylie, Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott.
"We're thrilled to be honoring Michelle Kwan," Sharon Cohen said. "Dylan Lauren is a female CEO of a company she started. She's entrepreneurial and a female role model here in New York City.
"Jeff Tweedy and Sean John have been supporting us for many years now," she continued. "[A few years ago], they even outfitted all our girls in beautiful coats to keep them warm on the ice.
"What's special is that so many people from diverse backgrounds, including the elite skating world, come together for this event."