‘The Santa Of Tzedaka’
Wed, 02/05/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
Not standing pat: Dube with 10-year-old Patriots fan Daniel Morrison.
Not standing pat: Dube with 10-year-old Patriots fan Daniel Morrison.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, at exactly 9:50 p.m., Joanna Adams-Duffy received a text message from a man who said his name was Mike Dube.

He explained that he volunteers for a nonprofit organization called Sharing Seats that provides tickets to sporting events for children going through hard times. Dube heard that Adams-Duffy’s 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Would she like to go to a hockey game?

Two nights later, Rachel sat in wheelchair-accessible seats at Madison Square Garden wearing a Rangers jersey that Dube had overnighted to her house. At one point a security guard visited Rachel and handed her a knapsack with a Rangers hat, T-shirt, stickers and other team paraphernalia inside. When New York winger Mats Zuccarello’s scored the game-winning goal with under six minutes to play, she and the other 18,000 fans screamed wildly. It was the first time she had ever been to a sporting event.

“He’d never met us, he didn’t even know our story,” said Adams-Duffy, whose first husband died suddenly at 31 from an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. “This is what their childhood should be about. Not the disability. Not the death of their dad. It’s these moments that are so important. This godsend man came out of nowhere and literally made this happen for us in three days.”

Though his is not a household name, look closely and you’ll find that Dube has done the same for countless other families. Born in Far Rockaway and now a resident of Englewood, N.J., Dube has used a love of sports and an inherent ability to wheel and deal to touch hundreds of lives.

The concept of Sharing Seats, created by Dube’s friend Yoni Greenstein, is a simple one: Have tickets you’re not using? Let us know and we’ll see that the seats go to someone who could use a pick-me-up. But it’s Dube’s kindness and unceasing desire to go the extra mile that pushes Sharing Seats to another level of chesed.

This past June Mitch Morrison took his son Daniel to the ER after the 10-year-old complained of back pain. He was shocked to learn that the cause was a collapsed lung brought on by T-Cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Daniel had scored two goals playing street hockey that very morning.

“We were emotionally paralyzed,” Morrison wrote in an email.

Out of the blue Morrison got a call from Dube who, after introducing himself, offered his support. Dube visited several times, once surprising the family with tickets to a Jets game, including VIP parking so Daniel wouldn’t have to walk far. During a recent chemotherapy treatment, Dube showed up at the clinic with the jersey of Daniel’s favorite player, the indomitable Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots. When Morrison mentioned an 8-year-old Hispanic child suffering from the same form of cancer as Daniel, Dube drove to his house to give the boy Jets tickets.

The “Santa of Tzedaka,” as Morrison called him, “makes time to inspire kids when they are at their weakest, preaching hope and positivity. For parents of a child with cancer, we have been emboldened by Dube and believe he’s one of the great stories in the Jewish community.”

Most of the time he learns about families like Morrison’s through word of mouth. But how is he able to find courtside seats, special parking, team gear and court-side passes to pre-game shoot-arounds in a matter of hours? Dube said that through his personal and professional relationships, he’s built a broad network of connections, people who are both eager, and in positions to help.

“Within our circles we’re one step away from everybody — the president, the owner of a sports team, whatever,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting in the time and the effort.”

An accomplished high school and college basketball player (he played for Yeshiva University, “the NBA of Jews,” he joked), Dube built a life around helping the underdog. For several years he worked in an outpatient psychiatric facility before launching his own company, the Dube Zone in 2010; it is a youth fitness and health program that de-emphasizes the pressures of intense competition.

“As a kid I became so ultra-competitive that I didn’t enjoy winning and I didn’t know how to lose, and that’s a major problem in life if you don’t know how to lose,” Dube said. “Why are you playing sports at all if it’s not fun?”

Dube’s wife, Rachel, said that using sports to both teach and heal children has brought out the best in him.

“I knew when I married Mike that he was probably the most passionate person I’d ever met,” said Rachel, who serves as the CEO of the Dube Zone. “Only now do I think he’s reaching his true potential. And I truly think this is the happiest he’s ever been.”

But there is sadness, a steep price that must be paid to develop relationships with children who are ill.

“Unfortunately there are some kids who don’t make it,” he said. “But if you’ve got the ability to impact someone’s life for even a minute, you’re fixing the world a little.”

Sari Friedbauer, a single mother from New Milford, N.J., would agree. Her 11-year-old son, Avichai, has learning and social disabilities so severe that just leaving the house is an ordeal. Dube immediately called to offer her tickets to a Rangers game. It did wonders.

“There was such a reaction on his face during the game, and he was happy and clapping,” Friedbauer said of her son. “He’s not so in tune with what kids his age do, but he came back from the game and wanted to hang up a foam finger in his room and I felt like I had a normal kid. I felt like I had a boy just like everyone else.

“This changed me and my son’s life.”

Since that first game in December, Avichai has taken a liking to sports and Friedbauer said that Dube reaches out to her whenever he has tickets. For Avichai’s birthday two weeks ago, Dube dropped off a bag filled with sports gear, a Knicks jersey and, of course, tickets.

sgabekahn@gmail.com, @sgabekahn