You just never know…

What an eventful afternoon I had speaking to the Kiwanis group last month, all because I stopped to pick up a few items at the Wegmans Food & Pharmacy Store. While there, one of the Kiwanis members spotted the jacket I was wearing that featured our “Gabe & Izzy Youth Inspirational Speaker” logo with our web address, stitched on the back.

Later in the day, I received a phone call from the person who saw me sporting my Gabe and Izzy jacket. Her name was Debbie and informed me she is a committee member of the local Kiwanis. Explaining how she got my contact information, she invited me to speak at their next meeting. Without hesitation, I said YES!!

And there I am, in front of the Kiwanis members; my heart-felt, anti-bullying message of thirteen years on the road passionately flowing. The next thing I knew? Everyone in the room stands and claps, and claps, and claps. Wow!

Hearts were touched, live’s we’re blessed…and the applause continued.

What a treat for me and for the Gabe and Izzy mission…to help confront school bullying head on. Kiwanis members were purchasing our books, many approaching me, asking for more story; they didn’t want it to end!

As the meeting drew to a close, the President of the Canandaigua Kiwanis stood and spoke, “we want you booked throughout the Canandaigua Schools!”

All the first hand experience I’ve had in this loving, but often difficult world, have given me the burning passion in my soul for America’s bullied. My message was felt and heard…changing lives for the better.

This makes me very happy!

Rhonda

I’ll never forget her watering eyes.

Gabe and I had just finished an anti-bullying school assembly, and were doing our post presentation Meet & Greet.

This young girl approached me and began to speak, asking me if she could talk to me. I said, “Why sure, what’s going on?” With tear-filled eyes, she informs me “I have no hair.” She then began her heart-breaking experiences of her classmates making fun of her.

My heart began to melt. I inquired if she had alopecia; a condition causing a person’s hair to fall out. She said, yes. Tears filled her beautiful brown eyes began to roll down her face.

She proceeded to tell me that if she wears a wig to cover her baldness, she’s made fun of; and if she doesn’t wear her wig, she’s made fun of! No matter what she does she’s repetitively made fun of.

I hugged her close, I could feel her pain. Then she told me Gabe’s message was so powerful that she realized today she’s not Alopecia; and having no hair would not define who she is.  She then said, she was inspired and moved to the point she is never wearing her wig again. She is ok with what she looks like and she will never forget Gabe and Izzy’s message.

As Gabe’s mom, it’s moments and stories like this that move me to help advance anti-bullying work which Gabe and I started so many years ago. How can we let this story fade away when there are so many other students who need to learn that their actions are hurting their classmates?

Another reason I feel our message must go on is because a male student who later wrote and told us he was planning on taking his life, but realized that if Gabe could overcome so much he could too. He ask, please take your story all over the U.S., and all over the world.

Not long after Penguin Random House Publishing approached Gabe and I, sharing it was a unison decision at Penguin that Gabe had a lot to say to America’s youth. They asked her to write a youth book.

Gabe and Izzy Standing Up for America’s Youth is now available. Student’s love it, and teachers have said, every student should be required to listen to this recorded book.

Still Dancing

Where is Gabe a decade later?

Where Is ‘Gabe’ A Decade Later?

Many people remember Gabrielle “Gabe” Ford and her companion dog, Izzy, who spent years working in local schools and throughout the country with an anti-bullying message.

She was born and raised in Fenton and graduated from Lake Fenton High School in 1998. Both she and Izzy had rare neuromuscular diseases that provided a bond and helped Ford come to terms with her own disease.

Ford had been diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare genetic disease, when she was 12 years old. Eventually, she would require a wheelchair as her muscles weakened. Izzy suffered from muscular dystrophy.

The disease caused Ford to slur her words and she began to be bullied in the eighth grade, all the way through high school graduation. But her bond with Izzy eased her depression and isolation and gave her a strength that empowered her to accomplish goals in her life that she would have never dreamed possible — even physical feats like parasailing, bungee jumping and whitewater rafting.

Gabe and Izzy were guests on Discovery Channel’s “Animal Planet” and “The Today Show” and won numerous awards for their anti-bullying programs held throughout the U.S. Her mom, Rhonda Hillman, was her biggest fan and accompanied her to programs from California to New York.

Ford authored a book, “Still Dancing,” a memoir and resource for parents, educators, victims and bullies. It was released at Christmas 2009.

Izzy passed away that same year, another difficult milestone in Ford’s life. Since Izzy’s death, Ford had other dogs, including ILO (Izzy Lives On), but Ford had to re-home her because she was no longer able to care for her in her living arrangement at the time.

In 2013, Ford signed a book deal with Penguin Group, the second largest trade book publisher in the world, and penned “Gabe and Izzy: America’s Voice for the Bullied.”

GabeIzzy.jpg

Where is she today?

Ford, 37, left the Fenton area in 2012 to move to Florida with her mom, step-dad, Richard and her sister, Madeline. “My disease is progressive,” said Ford, in a phone interview with the Times. “It was hard to get around in the snow in a wheelchair.”

On Father’s Day 2016, her stepdad passed away from cancer, and she and her mom moved to upstate New York to be near family. Ford has recently moved into her own apartment with a roommate, and her mother lives in the same complex.

“I do physical therapy twice a week and I eat healthy,” said Ford. “I do what I can to keep myself going. I also have a caretaker who comes in a couple of days a week, and she helps me do errands, shop, etc.”

She and her mother still have friends and family who live in or near Fenton and they come back occasionally to visit. “It was a nice place to grow up,” she said.

Readers can view this article in the Tri County Times here.