Gabriel House of Care celebrates 5th anniversary


Gabriel House of Care marked its fifth anniversary Saturday with a gala that celebrated the nonprofit organization’s mission of providing comfort, care and assistance to people receiving cancer and organ transplant treatments.

Held at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse, the gala attracted more than 320 supporters and volunteers for a fun and festive evening that included a cocktail reception, dinner and dancing along with live and silent auctions to benefit Gabriel House’s programs. A special highlight of the festivities was the evening’s Cuban theme in honor of Gabriel House’s leading benefactors, Jorge and Leslie Bacardi of Bacardi rum and spirits fame.

In 2008, after struggling all his life with a rare lung disease, Jorge Bacardi received a life-saving double-lung transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. He left Mayo determined to aid other individuals and families going through transplants and cancer treatments.

At Saturday’s event, Bacardi said both Gabriel House and the anniversary gala grew out of his desire to honor the donor “angel” who saved his life.

“Tonight is all about honoring the donor,” Bacardi said. “Nothing I do could ever repay the generosity of Christopher Mark Gregory. It’s a gift you cannot repay.”

Gregory was a 19-year-old college student attending Loyola University in New Orleans when he suffered a fatal brain aneurysm. At the gala, numerous attendees noted how Gregory’s generosity inspired them to become involved with Gabriel House.

“There’s a spirit here in this room tonight,” Gabriel House board member Maruchi Schumacher said. “You can feel Christopher’s spirit – it really has united everybody.”

Also in attendance was Gregory’s mother, who noted that less than a week before his sudden death her son had talked about being an organ donor.

“It’s overwhelming to see what the Bacardis have set up to continue my son’s legacy,” Grace Gregory said. “We only had Chris for 19 years, but the gift he gave has now touched so many lives, it’s very rewarding.”

Since opening in April 2011, Gabriel House has served approximately 3,800 patients and caregivers, providing affordable lodging and supportive programs to adult organ transplant and cancer patients. The 37,000 square-foot facility features 30 rooms that can accommodate an average of 100 guests per night. Guests typically stay for anywhere from six weeks to more than a year. A nominal nightly charge is augmented by private donations, as Gabriel House receives no state or federal funding support.

While at Gabriel House, guests have access to a library, reflection room, great rooms with large-screen TVs, a large communal kitchen, laundry facilities and a fitness room.

“These past five years have been amazing watching this small house grow into much more than a just a lodging facility,” Executive Director Valerie Callahan said.  “When these patients and caregivers walk through our doors, they are dealing with a wide range of emotions including fear, anxiety and depression. We know this can be overwhelming for them, which is why we’ve taken our lodging program to the next level through our Community of Healing initiative.”

While staying at Gabriel House, patients have access to a myriad of integrative and complementary programs, including stress reduction, art therapy, yoga, and cooking and nutrition classes designed specifically for individuals with compromised immune systems. Local volunteers and community organizations also provide meals for Gabriel House residents through its “Chef’s Night In” program.

For Grace Gregory, knowing that so many families have benefited from Gabriel House’s programs has helped her family in dealing with the loss of their son.

“It’s wonderful to see what’s come out of the sorrow of losing our child.”