April Extraordinary Leader: The Junior with the Big Heart

Kozlowski teaches students like Madison, a fourth-grader, at Macedonia Family Resource Center.

Gabby Kozlowski packs her car every time she leaves her house on University Parkway.

She brings her piano lesson binder for the children she teaches at the Macedonia Family Resource Center, and she’ll throw in her workout bag for the middle-school runners she leads around a quarter-mile track near High Point University.

She may even need her workout gear for runners her own age. She’s the co-captain of HPU’s Running Club, and she’s an exuberant leader one teammate describes as “the kind of person who goes to the next level of giving.”

But in her car, a 2013 silver Hyundai Elantra, are also the basics. She brings her books for class and packs yogurt, a banana, a granola bar and a triple decker peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich for lunch.

She needs to because she may leave her house at 8 in the morning and not come back home until 10 at night.

Kozlowski, a junior psychology major from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is busy.

She is a Presidential Scholar and a Siegfried Leadership Fellow, and she will graduate next year with three minors – civic responsibility and social innovation; nonprofit leadership and management; and women and gender studies.

She’s one of two Extraordinary Leaders for the month of April, and she does help a lot of people.

“I have a heart for people,” she says.

Here’s why.

 

As the social media coordinator for HPU’s Bonner Leader program, Kozlowski keeps busy with posting what they do.

Finding Meaning through HPU

Kozlowski is a Bonner Leader. 

The national program, part of HPU’s experiential learning component, gives 37 students the chance to earn money through the Federal Work-Study Program by committing to four years of community service.

That means spending 300 hours a year at a local nonprofit.

Kozlowski was a freshman when she chose Macedonia Family Resource Center as her service site. It’s a nonprofit near HPU that offers life skills and options to empower local families. She chose it because of its director, Dell McCormick.

“I don’t know what ‘Bonner’ is,” she confided with McCormick in her first interview.

McCormick understood. He told Kozlowski Bonner is like family to Macedonia.  Kozlowski understood that. For her, family is important. She’s close to her parents and her younger sister, and she saw how she could become close to Macedonia.

That happened.

 

A ‘God Moment’

She found her love for service, her heart for people, at Macedonia. So, it’s no wonder that last spring, during HPU’s annual banquet for Bonner Leaders, she was honored with the award called “Most Likely to Eat, Sleep and Dream about my Site.”

She laughs about that because someone really said that about her. And she admits, it’s true.

She runs Macedonia’s website and its social media accounts. She also teaches six students, ages 5 through 11, piano every week.

Kozlowski and fellow Bonner Leader Ashley Banegas took five High Point students to the Mistletoe Run in December. Left to right are Banegas, Bella Correa, Clara Primus, Rachael Jones and Alan Miller.

She became Macedonia’s piano teacher because of what McCormick calls a “God Moment.”

She was sitting in on a Macedonia board retreat the spring of her sophomore year, and she was listening to McCormick update the board members about the nonprofit’s needs. One of those needs was a piano teacher.

That request got Kozlowski thinking.

She took piano lessons for six years in elementary school, and she learned on her great grandfather’s upright piano. Even after she stepped away from lessons, she continued to play. She wrote her own songs and played tunes by ear from Coldplay and John Legend.

So, when she heard about Macedonia’s need, she knew.

“I need to step up and do it,” she told herself.

During a break, she approached McCormick.

“You know, I play piano, and I’ll teach if you’d like me to,” she told him.

After the break, McCormick broke the news to the board.

“We just had a God Moment,” he told them. “Gabby has stepped forward to teach piano.”

For Kozlowski, that quick decision has made a big difference in her life.

“It’s been such a light for me,” she says. “I started teaching in the fall, and it’s been the best thing I’ve done at High Point. I run and do all this stuff, but I do it for me. But when I teach piano, I do it for other people, and I never thought I could teach anyone anything.”

Kozlowski has proved herself wrong.

 

‘Her Heart of Gold’

Last fall, Kozlowski and Ashley Banegas, another Bonner Leader from HPU, started a running group with five students from Penn-Griffin School for the Arts. Both Kozlowski and Banegas go to the school’s track twice a week, and they and their middle-school runners stretch, run, walk and run some more.

Then, Kozlowski and Banegas both introduce their runners to a new word they can apply to their everyday life, and they talk about it. A few words Kozlowski and Banegas have picked include these three — friendship, trust and honesty.

They also race. Last fall, Kozlowski and Banegas took their five runners to the Mistletoe Run in Winston-Salem. Four ran a 5K, and the other ran the Fun Run during a 35-year tradition in Kozlowski’s hometown.

Kozlowski’s outreach doesn’t surprise Erin Moran, the coach of HPU’s Running Club.

Kozlowski has participated in two half Ironman competitions while a student at HPU. In this photo, she competed at the Ironman Florida 70.3 in April 2019 and ended up placing fourth in her age group, 18-24.

She’s seen Kozlowski’s support firsthand at races and at the club’s potluck banquet last spring around a bonfire in Moran’s backyard.

Kozlowski and the other captain, Madison Gotro, handed out gift bags to the team’s three seniors. The gift bags contained a collage of photos in a frame.

“It has to be the work of Gabby,” one of the runners said.

“What does that mean?” Kozlowski said, laughing.

“You’re the kind of person who goes to the next level of giving,” the runner responded.

“He’s not wrong!” another runner shouted.

Moran captured that exchange all on her iPhone.

“Paired with her heart of gold for other people, Gabby has a passion for making sure others feel empowered to succeed even when she’s pushing herself to the limit,” says Moran, HPU’s associate director of admissions. “She makes people feel so special.”

Kozlowski got that same kind of encouragement growing up — with a basketball in her hands.

 

Kozlowski Discovers HPU

Her parents were both basketball coaches. Her mom played for then-High Point College in the late 1980s. When her parents divorced when she was eight, they made sure their oldest daughter stayed rock-solid emotionally through her basketball and her faith.

Kozlowski honed her game the old-school disciplined way: She trained at home on her family’s basketball goal in the driveway.

She stood behind the line her dad spray-painted white and shot 3 after 3. Then, she’d take two basketballs and work on her ball-handling. Her mom, who had printed out a workout schedule for her, would be right there encouraging her on.

“If you’re good with two basketballs,” she’d tell her oldest daughter. “You’ll definitely be good with one.”

Kozlowski played well enough to earn a scholarship to play at a North Carolina college.

Yet, when she toured HPU the spring of her junior year in high school, she knew she wanted to come – basketball or not. She was taken by the beauty, the opportunities, just everything she saw.

She knew she had to break it to her parents. But how?

 

Listening To God

Kozlowski played basketball for two years alongside her sister, Haleigh. Kozlowski averaged 13 points a game her senior year.

Since sixth grade, Kozlowski had played for the Winston-Salem Stealers, an AAU basketball team, and she played in tournaments across the South. When she arrived at Forsyth Country Day School, a private school in Winston-Salem, she joined yet another team.

In her last two years at Forsyth Country Day, Kozlowski played with her sister, Haleigh. Her sister played point guard and wore No. 5; Kozlowski played shooting guard and wore No. 33. Essentially, they played side by side.

She also ran cross-country all four years at Forsyth Country Day. But that was just to stay in shape for basketball. But what really expanded her world beyond basketball was her whim of a decision to audition for “Little Shop of Horrors” the fall of her senior year.

She was cast as an urchin, a bit singing part that acted as the musical’s comic relief. In doing so, she discovered another side of herself.

She found there was more to life than games, practices and drills in her driveway. And she knew she wanted to go to HPU. Her mom was supportive. Her dad, too.

“I am a Christian, and I felt God was telling me to come here,” she says today. “It was a different route, but I ended up where I was supposed to be.”

 

‘Seven Best Friends’

At HPU, Kozlowski has found all kinds of opportunities.

Kozlowski met her new roommate, Shay Kelly, last fall at a leadership conference in Florida.

She’s kept up her passion for basketball. She plays with HPU’s Club Women’s Basketball team. She also has kept up her running beyond coaching middle schoolers. Since arriving at HPU, she has participated in two marathons and two half Ironman competitions.

She’s also honed her skills as a leader, and last fall, she attended a leadership conference in Orlando, Florida. She ended up meeting her new roommate, Shay Kelly, a junior human relations major from New Hampshire.

She and Kelly lived in a house along University Parkway with Kelly’s dog, Willa, and at 6:30 every Wednesday, they’d meet with six other young women from HPU and hold a Bible study.

They’d sit in the living room, share homemade chocolate chip cookies and talk about everything from lessons found in the New Testament to advice discovered in Gary Thomas’ book, “The Sacred Search.”

“Our Bible study has given me my seven best friends, and it’s allowed me to surround myself with people who are going through the same thing I am,” she says. “We talk about it. We know God is in control.”

 

Finding ‘Faithful Courage’

Kozlowski is now at home.

Like other universities nationwide, the coronavirus has caused HPU to move to remote learning for the rest of the spring semester. Kozlowski takes classes online, holds Bonner Leadership meetings every Friday online and works nearly 40 hours a week, wearing gloves and a mask, at a local pizza restaurant.

At times, Kozlowski does feel overwhelmed. But she remembers what one of her professors, Dr. Christine Cugliari, said to her when online classes started.  Cugliari, an associate professor of nonprofit leadership, told Kozlowski to have “faithful courage.”

“That has stuck with me,” she says. “I know everyone is going through the same thing, and not only students but professors have to adapt as well. So, High Point has helped me with staying positive, knowing change is inevitable and that we’re all in this together.

“I know I’m not alone.”

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