On Saturday, June 4, Gabby's Walk for Change will be a part of a full day of festivities called the "Day of Dreams" benefiting Lebanon-based Empower Me Center.
The special day and the free Gabby's Walk for Change will take place in an open field at the City of Lebanon's property, located at 200 Carver Lane.
Empower Me Center Executive Director Michelle Hill noted, "This event is free and open to the public. People of all ages and abilities are welcome." She added Empower Me encourages everyone to visit www.EmpowerMeCenter.com to register. "This will allow us to know how many people to plan for and to have enough medals for all of the participants."
Empower Me Center has placed collection boxes throughout the community leading up to the big day for people to drop in their change. Gabby's Walk for Change will begin around 10 a.m. by filling a hot air balloon basket with the change collected, plus any donations community members would like to contribute that day.
The event is in honor of Gabryelle Conklin, who has been a part of Empower Me Day Camp for 16 years. Despite her physical limitations and inability to walk, she has become an advocate for those other children who cannot speak. Empower Me is celebrating her life and all the others who have unique needs.
Gabryelle was born first of triplets at only 25 weeks gestation. She weighed one pound and 12 ounces. She was very healthy at birth, receiving better scores than either of her sisters, though they were all immediately intubated and placed on life support. Gabryelle remained on life support for almost two months. At three month and weighing just over four-and-a-half pounds, she came home. When she was nine months old, she was diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. She is a quadriplegic; however, her vocal skills are normal as well as her mental abilities. Unfortunately, most of her issues are physical with dislocation and degeneration of the hip joints, severe scoliosis and several surgeries including a spinal dorsal rhizotomy and full spinal fusion. When she was three years old, she was enrolled in a special education preschool program with various therapies within the regular school system. She made huge improvements during the school year, but the summers presented another challenge. Everything gained during the school year would begin to diminish without daily interaction with teachers, therapists and peers.
Enter Empower Me Day Camp.
"I get chills now thinking back to the day we first heard about this camp. After years of struggling with trying to find childcare services for a child with disabilities, we could not believe that there was a place out there specifically focused on meeting the needs of our child," Regina Conklin, Gabryelle's mother, said.
Gabryelle began attending Empower Me Day Camp when she was six years old. She is now 23 years old and has only missed camp one summer due to having the spinal fusion surgery to correct the scoliosis.
"The parents of Empower Me children are so fortunate to have a place to send their children where they are the main focus. Gabryelle's life has been improved so much. She has the largest heart of any human I have ever had the pleasure to know," Regina Conklin said.
And now that Gabryelle is older, she acts as a mentor to the smaller children at camp and wants to be a motivational speaker someday.
"I can't wait to see all my Empower Me kiddos cross the finish line at our Gabby's Walk for Change on June 4," Gabryelle said. "I've been competing in races for almost three years now, and I can't wait to share that feeling with all my camp kiddos."
"We're hoping that Gabby's Walk for Change becomes a major annual fund-raiser for the Empower Me Center," her mother added. "Events like these are a great way to bring the community together."
Food trucks will be present, and Empower Me will sell memorabilia during the event. A silent auction, family friendly games, inflatables and face-painting will also be available between Gabby's Walk for Change and Donovan's Jam, with live music from various artists including headliner Darryl Worley. To learn more about Empower Me and all of the day's events, visit www.EmpowerMeCenter.com.