Three Minutes Across the Counter With Dawn Berkowitz-Ader

“Three Minutes Across the Counter” is a feature on Patch in which we chat with local business owners. If you would like to be featured, email adina@patch.com with the name of your business.

Today we chat with Dawn Berkowitz-Ader, founder and president of GAALS: Girls Athletics And Life Skills.

Patch: How did you get your first start in business?

Berkowitz-Ader: As the mother of two girls, and still carrying insecurities about participating in sports – I never played as a child – I saw the value of making sports an important part of our lives. After seeing and hearing their negative reactions while playing, I started questioning why. After much observation and research, I realized that many important components needed to go into successfully teaching girls sports, including creating a supportive environment, as well as giving the girls an opportunity to express themselves. I decided to create a program that would teach the basic skills used in both traditional and nontraditional sports so that each girl would feel comfortable playing regardless of where – and hopefully, find a sport that resonated with them.

And while I saw the value in learning life skills through sports, like communication, teamwork and leadership, I recognized the need to connect the dots – to show the girls how those valuable skills can be used in their daily experiences. So I created GAALS: Girls Athletics And Life Skills and its mission to enhance girls’ physical, social and emotional well-being through physical activity. I then hired a young, vivacious female athlete with a Masters in Psychology and Exercise Science who would serve as the head coach. Last fall, I invited some of my daughters’ friends and held our first class in my driveway to experiment with the class format / curriculum. We continued one class a month through the fall. From there, I created the first 17 week curriculum that we ran last winter and spring. The response was so incredible that I realized that GAALS had unlimited potential. I quit my full-time job with hopes that I could grow the program and empower girls in many more communities.

Patch: How did your parents influence you as a business owner?

Berkowitz-Ader: When I was growing up, my father owned a residential moving business. From a very early age I saw his commitment to his company, his work ethic, and the pride he felt in knowing that he was his own boss, in good times and bad. I saw that when you’re the business owner, you’re always on – and I’m now experiencing that myself. Sometimes when I’m sitting at my computer at 1 a.m. and everyone in my house is sleeping, I think about my father growing the moving business from nothing.

Patch: How long have you lived here?

Berkowitz-Ader: My family moved to Port Washington in the fall of 2011. Prior to that I lived in New York City for 17 years.

Patch: What’s your favorite thing about living here?

Berkowitz-Ader: Easy one – the people! We have been incredibly fortunate to meet such wonderful families – in our neighborhood, through our school and synagogue, our children’s extracurricular groups – that it immediately felt like home. It’s a special community that has exceeded our expectations.

Patch: What’s a business mistake you’ve made that later you were glad you did?

Berkowitz-Ader: I learned that no one can market my business like I can. That doesn’t mean business associates/partners aren’t helping. It’s just that even with the best intentions, what sells a good idea is passion. And no one can match my passion for GAALS. I realize that one of the priorities for GAALS is to find other moms like me who could have benefitted from a program like this and offer them business opportunities to get out there into schools, doctors offices, communities, etc to speak about how we go about empowering girls through sports.

Patch: Tell us something about yourself that most of your neighbors don’t know.

Berkowitz-Ader: When studying TV broadcasting at Ithaca College, I was the on-air news anchor/reporter for the campus TV station – and sat alongside David Muir, the new ABC World News Tonight Anchor. Somewhere in a box in my garage are some VHS tapes that I would be horrified to watch again.

Patch: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Berkowitz-Ader: Return every call, talk to everyone and anyone who will listen. You never know where a conversation may lead. So the most well-connected, best-networked businesspeople are generally the winners.

Patch: What advice would you give to a small business owner just starting out?

Berkowitz-Ader: DO. NOT. GIVE. UP. There will be many times when the mountain seems so steep and the easy thing to do is to just give up. Don’t do it. Surround yourself with supporters who will encourage and help you stick with your plan. Even with a little bit of progress each day, over the course of a few months, that little bit adds up to a lot.

Patch: What do you look for when you hire?

Berkowitz-Ader: I look for energy and enthusiasm. Skills can be taught, Aptitude can be developed and nurtured. But true passion is rare. So when you find someone who has it, wrap them up. I have been fortunate to be associated with passionate people without whom GAALS would not be where it is today. My husband has this saying: “It’s the attitude, not the aptitude, that determines the altitude.”


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