FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A community group that helps sick children enjoy the healing power of music started with one ukulele and the dream of a father to carry on the memory of his son, who died at age 22.
“A good friend of mine, Corey Bergman, started a foundation to raise money for the Make A Wish Foundation,” says Andrew K. Gaskin, a sales associate with Better Homes & Gardens Florida 1st in Fort Lauderdale. “He would visit the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in New York and play his guitar for the children.”
One day Bergman met a very special three-year-old girl who had leukemia. “She fell in love with the guitar but was too small to play it,” Gaskin recalls. “So Bergman brought her a ukulele. She spent every waking moment playing with it.” Soon after that, Bergman moved to Florida and reconnected with Gaskin.
“He told me the story of this girl and how he could see her joy. He mentioned that the nurses were very positive and excited about it. Music has therapeutic benefits,” says Gaskin. “I was immediately onboard and offered to help him raise money to buy ukuleles to hand out to children in the hospital.”
Soon after, a deal was struck with a music store and in November 2013, Bergman made this foundation official, calling it the Ukulele Kids Club. Gaskin is a director and organizes the charity’s fundraising efforts.
“The impact of the foundation is amazing. The cost is minimal (five ukuleles cost $100),” he says.” Florida has 18 children’s hospitals, so $1,800 would send a full shipment of ukuleles to every hospital in the state.
“Obviously this is not a one time thing, so the cost is more than that, but I am excited because what we do in our communities is so important,” says Gaskin.
Since February 2014, Gaskin has helped ship more than 100 ukuleles to 20 different hospitals. “We get requests from music therapists all over the country. They all want to get into the program.”
Gaskin says the key to the charity is that the kids get to keep the ukulele. “Many hospitals fund music therapy, but the kids don’t get to take the instrument home. We allow them to take it home.”
Ukulele Kids Club is a family affair for Gaskin, whose 16-year old son Sam is an assistant to the board of directors. “Sam manages our Instagram and other social media accounts. He set us up on Paypal,” Gaskin says.
In fact, Sam had a hand in developing one recent social media campaign, the “Wear your Ukulele Kids Club shirt and take a selfie” promotion. A selfie is a picture one takes of him or herself by holding the camera out in front of him or her.
“We give out tee shirts and kids are asked to wear them all day at school,” Gaskin explains. “If they do that and post a selfie to our Instagram account, we will give them five hours of community service. If you’re a high school freshman and you wear it 15 times, you have enough community service hours to qualify for Florida’s Bright Futures program. It’s a branding thing and it gets kids involved in the charity.”
While Ukulele Kid’s Club is Gaskin’s most recent charitable passion, it’s not his only one. In 2013, he was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors® for his work with a disabled veteran he met while showing houses.
“I was driving down one street, traveling with an investor, and there was this older gentleman sitting in front of his house. The house was a mess. It looked like it hadn’t been painted in years, and the landscaping was overgrown,” he says.
Gaskin spoke to a neighbor who told him that the man was a disabled veteran. He served on five islands in the South Pacific and has been disabled since 1946. The veteran had been living in the house since 1961 and “it looked like it hadn’t been painted since then,” according to Gaskin. In fact, the front door was held together with duct tape. At a meeting a few days later, Gaskin mentioned the man to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors® charitable foundation members.
“I told them that we should do something for him. The man was 93 years old and had limited disability payments because his medical records were destroyed in a fire at the hospital where he was treated,” he says.
Gaskin reached out to a local disabled veterans charity and contacted the mayor of Pompano Beach.
“We got him qualified for a couple of grants. He got a new roof, new windows and a refrigerator. We fixed his air conditioning and painted his house,” says Gaskin. “I’m still working on his house. I hired a landscaper and a friend is redoing his pool. We’re also getting his front door replaced. The truth is, people are always willing to help. You just have to ask.”
Overall, Gaskin says, these projects have opened his eyes to the challenges many people in the world face on a daily basis.
“I realize the need to focus on giving back to my community. It’s nice to know you impacted these people and are recognized as someone who is honorable and ethical,” he says.
Gaskin is as dedicated to his profession as he is to helping others. He has taken additional education courses to enhance his knowledge and expertise, earning the professional certifications of Certified Distressed Property Expert (CDPE), Certified Home Professional (CHP) and Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR). In 2013, Gaskin was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors® for his volunteer community efforts.