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Feature Stories

Tipping His Cap To The Less Fortunate

Tyler Cohen is making a difference, one hat at a time

Making a difference is much easier said then done especially in the world we live in today. However, 17-year-old Tyler Cohen found a way to help others one step at a time, and make a small act of kindness have an enormous result. Caps Count!, a charitable project that collects gently used caps, hats and visors to ship them to orphanages around the world, was created and started by Cohen when he was just 16 years old. What started off as a good-hearted thought developed into something that mattered to many different individuals.

The August after his junior year at Herricks High School, a trip to Modell’s Lake Sucess store changed everything when the Albertson resident brought up the idea to place a donation box outside of the store so people could drop off unwanted caps to send to underprivileged kids in different countries. Executive of Modell’s, John Borrelli, took interest in Cohen’s initiative, and helped put Caps Count!  on the map by linking him and Modell’s on Facebook, placing donation boxes in five different stores throughout Long Island and Queens, followed by a generous donation of 1,000 caps as proceeds for the charity. Modell’s continues to work with the teen in efforts to continue Caps Count! and help it evolve into something greater.

Caps Count! was fueled initially by Cohen’s trip through a student traveling organization to Costa Rica, to aid local orphanages and experience a new perspective. When 5-year-old Fernando, an orphan in the village, took off with the teen tourist’s hat in hand, he reacted immediately yelling for someone to “stop the thief.” Before he took further action, the little boy was proudly showing off his “new” prized possession to his friends. Cohen realized that the hat he begged and pleaded his mother to get him for his trip meant much more to Fernando and had the American teen come away with a new appreciation for the fortunate life he had at home. Traveling to Ecuador a year later to another orphanage for community service, the high school student brought along 22 unwanted hats to give to the children. In addition to using them as an accessory, the children used them to play Frisbee, linked them together to make a chain and also traded their caps. Their hats were also used as tools to carry rocks or objects they had found. The happy reactions and genuine smiles from the children sparked the idea that this simple gesture could impact scores of kids around the world.

Cohen has gained notoriety for his rewarding creation throughout his community. Even gaining the support from the New York Yankees, when they sent a box brand-new Yankee hats to donate to the teen and his program. Another baseball team that caught the interest of Caps Count! is the Redmen Little League baseball team from western Nassau County. Coach Ralph Bonelli noticed the donation box outside of a local gym and felt he had to get him and his team involved. Then got in contact with Lynne Gambone, Cohen’s mother, to see what him and his team could do to help, which resulted in the team collectively donating over 500 caps and visors to Caps Count!  cause.

Delivering smiles and building character is the slogan the Long Island teen has given Caps Count! So people can understand truly what the message of the program is.

“Every single hat that you donate to Caps Count! Is the same thing as giving a smile to a child,” Gambone explained.

Cohen’s desire to be an entrepreneur in the business world does not seem too far out of reach, since he is learning many lessons now that most adults learn later in life. He has big plans for Caps Count!  that include the help of brother Blake Cohen. Starting high school next year, the younger Cohen will have the responsibility of managing Caps Count!  while his elder sibling is away at college and is “excited to bring the charity out further” in hopes to expand on a larger scale. Cohen and his family are also working on getting reliable connections to the Dominican Republic, India, and Taiwan. This poses challenges because of the lack of communication means less fortunate countries have, and the factor of trust that those individuals will follow through.

Now that Caps Count! is steadily gaining recognition, there are more boxes stuffed with hats then the Cohen’s could have ever imagined. Although plans for shipment overseas is a necessity, there are considerable expenses incurred by delivery services. The fee to send about 300 hats comes out to one dollar per hat of shipment money. The program is attempting to counter this overhead by accepting monetary donations and selling Caps Count! bracelets for $1 which will all go towards all overseas and domestic shipment fees.  

Cohen has many supporters nationwide. O.H., a friend of his in Cincinnati, has started a Caps Count! program locally, while contributors from California and other states are generously donating unsolicited shipment money and caps.

Although the future Herricks grad is very passionate and dedicated to Caps Count!, he also enjoys playing on his high school’s golf and tennis teams. Fitness training is also a passion and he has been studying Mandarin Chinese for over seven years, further burnishing his unique talent of foreign accents.