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HEARTS of the CITY | The Magic Touch

Kevin Kaplowitz performs free shows for terminally ill patients and the elderly, creating smiles out of thin air.

May 01, 1996|MIMI KO CRUZ | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The wails of a girl suffering from third-degree burns over her body seared a deep and lasting memory into Kevin Kaplowitz's mind.

"I remember I was about 10 and this little girl was wheeled into the hospital, and she was crying so bad," Kevin said. "I went over to her and made her a balloon animal, and she started smiling and laughing. I got her to forget about her pain." At least for a moment.

He was visiting the hospital to perform a magic show for patients when the girl was brought in.

Although he had been doing such shows since he was 6, the experience with the girl was so moving that Kevin became even more committed to trying to ease the suffering of others.

Now 15, he still stages free magic shows for the terminally ill, the lonely and the elderly at hospitals and care centers throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"I really love helping people and seeing them smile," said the honor student, who lives in La Habra with his parents and a sister. "I think I'm going to do the magic shows for the rest of my life."

On a recent visit to a seniors center where most residents have Alzheimer's disease, Kevin made balloon animals, pulled handkerchiefs out of an empty box and connected ropes by sleight of hand.

"Would you like to see a magic trick?" he softly asked each audience member who sat on couches and armchairs in the center's music room. When the answer was yes, the tuxedo-clad teenager performed several card tricks while kneeling in front of each person.

The routine, with jokes thrown in, is tailored to the groups he visits. For children, Kevin asks trivia questions and tells jokes they will understand.

With adults, he drops the trivia and tells tales, like this one: "I have a wife who is studying to be a doctor, and she likes to practice on me. She performs open wallet surgery."

The magic shows are just one aspect of Kevin's charitable deeds.

He is a ninth-grader at Sonora High School in La Habra, where he is on the water polo and swim teams.

He donates all the money he earns--$15 to $20 an hour--as a part-time weekend magician at a Brea restaurant. Recipients of his philanthropy include his school, Shriner's Hospital in Los Angeles, the Long Beach Youth Center, Children's Hospital of Orange County, St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, and Sundays in the Park, a Norwalk program for disadvantaged children.

"This kid reaches out to everyone," said Kathy Pearson, a St. Jude oncology clinical nurse specialist. "We think he's wonderful."

Pearson said Kevin has done his magic show for cancer patients at St. Jude for two years, and each time he has refused to be paid.

"We try to give him $25 gift certificates to the mall, but he turns around and gives us $100 or $125 for the hospital's cancer program," she said. "It's incredible."

His monetary contributions to Sonora High go toward a program to keep students from dropping out of school and to help needy honor students pay for advanced placement tests.

Robin Oliver, a Sonora High science teacher, said Kevin "is fabulous. He embodies what you would want a kid to be today.

"He doesn't help because he has to or because he is supposed to," Oliver said. "He is a real humanitarian who really has a genuine concern for other people."

Kevin sometimes performs with his sister, Karen, who sings, dances and plays a clown.

Karen Kaplowitz, 19, was Kevin's partner for nearly a decade. But now that she is a student at the University of Riverside and works full time at Disneyland, she cannot always take the stage with her brother.

However, they find other ways to help people in need.

They anonymously donate clothing, food and toys to organizations that clothe and feed the poor, said their mother, Barbara Kaplowitz.

They also tutor fellow classmates and younger children who need a hand with their schoolwork.

"Kevin is so much more than a brother to me," Karen said. "He is my best friend. I come home and he asks, 'Are you OK? Do you need any help with your homework?' I'm just so proud of him and so lucky."

*

Kevin said he learned to help others by watching his mother, an on-call volunteer tutor for neighborhood kids, and his father, Carl, a tax consultant who drives him to performances whenever he can.

Said Barbara Kaplowitz: "I'm really proud of the fact that Kevin cares so much. . . . I wish all kids could find something that makes them as content as what Kevin has found. He realized at an early age that he has the talent and intelligence to help people. He knows what his purpose is."

Kevin, who plans on becoming a pediatrician, agreed.

"It fills you up with joy when you do something for someone and you know you made them smile," he said. "It makes me real happy."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Beat

Today's centerpiece focuses on 15-year-old Kevin Kaplowitz, who performs magic tricks to cheer the elderly, lonely and the terminally ill.

For information about Kevin's performances, call (714) 879-8376.

'I remember I was about 10 and this little girl was wheeled into the hospital, and she was crying so bad. I went over to her and made her a balloon animal, and she started smiling and laughing. I got her to forget about her pain.'-- Kevin Kaplowitz, 15-Year-Old Magician

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