"He saw the need and he responded."
The following anecdotes reveal a few of Gabe's many acts of kindness throughout his life. The childhood experiences, had anyone "connected the dots," would have formed an arrow pointing to the helping professions, perhaps directly to social work. The asterisked ones became known to Gabe's family only after his death. He never talked about his good deeds and acts of kindness.
The Special Needs Children
When Gabe was in 4th - 5th grade, his school started an experiment which housed profoundly physically disabled children, their care-givers and their teachers in the school building and brought them together with the "typically developing" kids for lunch, prayer, assemblies and special events.
Gabe assumed a leadership role among his peers. Additionally he had no difficulty looking at, approaching, talking to and interacting with the "special" kids; he facilitated their acceptance.
He became a friend of a boy his age who had a syndrome marked by muscular drooping. His head was always down, so he could not look anyone in the eye. Neither did his speech nor gait muscles work properly, so he talked "funny" and his walking pattern was markedly off. But he could communicate. He had a sense of humor. He could laugh.
Gabe had him come home after school twice to play. They watched videos. Gabe's friend knew the dialog from the Godfather, reciting it before it came through the speakers.
When Gabe's dad and Gabe drove the visitor home, his mother asked the boys to step inside. Then she confided to Gabe's dad that these were the only times that anyone had ever invited her son home after school to play. She was very grateful.
He saw a need and he responded to it. It was not at a conscious level to Gabe. It was no big deal to him. Gabe never mentioned it.
He also did not hesitate to invite some of the disabled kids to his bar mitzvah celebration - the few who could come, one with her caregiver. The photos of the party show these kids having fun.
The Locked Out Lady
A few years later, when he was in high school, a woman he did not know locked her keys in her car with the motor running, across the street from Gabe's house. Her husband was at home in a hospice set-up, in a coma in very end-stage cancer. The lady had stepped out for only a very short errand. She was desperate to return home.
The lady pounded on all the neighbors' doors. Only Gabe was at home. He came out and opened her car door. But it was more than just helping a person by breaking into her car. The widow (her husband died that same afternoon) told Gabe's parents how comforting had been his words and demeanor. She, too, was very grateful.
Gabe was a member of a fraternity during his first two years away at college.
A freshman wanted to pledge the fraternity, as his father had been a brother in his college days. The student, however, had a prosthetic leg and had been born legally blind. The vote on this boy's admission was a tie and he was not going to be offered a place in that year's entering class.
Gabe stood up and spoke about giving everyone a chance, tolerance, looking past disabilities and the kid's good character, not his leg or his sight.
Gabe called for a re-vote and the applicant was admitted by a 1-vote margin.
Gabe became his "pledge-father" and shepherded him through the pledge period, initiation and his first year in the fraternity.
Gabe saw the need and he responded.
Years later, the 1-vote brother was quoted as saying the experience "changed my whole life. I never had a group of friends before I joined [the fraternity]."
Social Justice Matters
You bet it does. It did to Gabe.
While still in high school, Gabe read the publicity about the upcoming Northwestern University School of Law's First Annual Conference On Wrongful Convictions And The Death Penalty. And he was drawn to it; a magnetic-like attraction.
Gabe discovered that the registration fee was a lot more than he had. Northwestern in its wisdom asked Gabe what he could afford. He said he could borrow $10 from his dad. They told him what time and where to show up.
Gabe attended. He sat besides criminal defense attorneys, former prisoners, and prosecutors. He paid close attention to the proceedings. He became enthused, inspired. He talked about the Conference for days and about the grievous social problem forever.
His sense of social justice stimulated, it spread to other issues - Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction and death sentence for murder of a police officer in 1981. The former NPR on - air-reporter was arrested, convicted and sentenced at a time of highly charged racial tension in Philadelphia. The charges and countercharges as to the fairness of the trial have gone on for years and continue to this day. No one can know for sure, but question marks were insufficient support for the ultimate punishment, according to Gabe.
In college, Gabe took a bus from Peoria with a bunch of activists and nuns and met many other buses at the gates of Ft. Benning, GA, home of the "School Of The Americas" where, for reasons that must have seemed sound at the time, our country has trained promising young military officers from all over Central and South America. Unfortunately, some of them "developed" into their country's tyrants, human rights abusers and drug lords, or their willing co-conspirators. A Maryknoll priest, Fr. Bourgeois, spearheads this movement against the School Of The Americas and Gabe admired him for his courage and perseverance.
Gabe was the "go to" brother for his fraternity's social action projects. Whatever the proposal, Gabe would volunteer and try to enlist as many of the brothers as he could.
Throughout college, Gabe held several positions to help those in need. He volunteered in a nursing home and worked in a group home for developmentally disabled men. Gabe's undergraduate fieldwork was monitoring child visitation by divorcing parents and facilitating reintegration into society of troubled teens upon their release from juvenile detention facilities. He worked for the state furnishing respite relief for the parents of an autistic child and was a Big Brother to a fatherless seven year old.
Gabe As Social Worker
Between college and graduate school, Gabe took a year off and worked for a social service agency serving Chicago's near North Suburban area. He was a job coach to physically and developmentally disabled persons.
It was a "split-shift" job, with long un-paid gaps during the day. Gabe would often volunteer for the tasks that no one else wanted to do and during those long breaks would often go to the agency's sheltered workshop in its premises and just help out.
*Once, a client whose means of communication was voice recognition equipment built into the tray table of his wheelchair had an equipment failure and could not communicate. The agency's staff could not fix it. The repair technician whose job it was to repair these things could not do it. Gabe became aware of the problem. Gabe fixed it. We know not how he did it, except he was always "good at these things."
Gabe saw the need and he responded.
Another one of Gabe's clients had an opportunity to expand his gumball vending business from his tray table outside of a movie theatre to installing and servicing gumball machines in a well-known restaurant and bar in Chicago, on the condition that he be fully and properly licensed to do so.
Gabe researched the legal requirements, obtained the forms, filled them in, got the money for the official fees from the client, incorporated the business and filed the application with the city. This was not in Gabe's job description; he did it during his off time and for no pay and no recognition. Gabe saw the need and he responded.
Gabe's supervisor in this job portrayed well his nature in this letter recommending him to University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work.
Gabe's final fieldwork assignment in his M.S.W. curriculum at University of Denver was Project Renew of the Denver Inner City Parish; a program to facilitate the integration of recently released former prisoners back to their communities in Denver and to lobby against the privatization of the Colorado prison system.
*Gabe had just started on this assignment when he died, but he was very enthusiastic about it. Gabe's job included introducing clients to an allied, but separate, job referral service. True to form, Gabe could not wait to fill a need when he saw it, so he tried through his personal contacts to find employment for some of the clients. To make these job-connecting attempts was outside of Gabe's "job description," there was no pay for it and no recognition for it. Gabe did it because he saw how important employment was to the recently released former prisoners and he was going to try to do something about it. Many times in Gabe's life, his attempts were successful.
Gabe As Inspirer
*One of Gabe's friends tells how the friend was drifting in college, not engaged in his coursework, not sure of what to major in, and how Gabe saw in him the character traits that would make for a good social worker. Gabe motivated him to try that as a major and possibly a career. And that is what the friend has become, a social worker serving the troubled child population.
*Another person who became one of Gabe's friends near the end of his life recounts how the friend's drinking problem became apparent to Gabe and how Gabe showed him what to do, where to go and, most importantly, gave him the courage to take those first steps toward sobriety. Gabe saw the need and responded and changed that individual's life, hopefully, forever.
*From A Few Of Gabe's Fellow Graduate Students, Inscriptions In A Tribute Book Presented To Gabe's Family At A Beautiful Tribute Dinner At University Of Denver's Graduate School Of Social Work, 3/7/05:
[This first one was addressed to Gabe and written in the present tense we believe to ease the emotional pain and maintain composure.]
*** Your integrity was inspiring. You knew what you believed and you practiced it to the full. You will go on to become the most effective social worker I have ever known because your passion against injustice has inspired all of us to practice better, with more passion, with more integrity, and with all the laughter in the world.
*** With his quiet wittiness and his warm smile, his compassion and articulation, he truly impacted me. While I knew Gabe as a man of few words, I also knew his words were meaningful, powerful, and worth paying attention to. ***
*** Gabe was amazing. *** I sat by him in class every Monday, and I left everyday saying "I just love him." His spirit has truly affected me - I won't be the same as a social worker or as a person. I am so lucky to have had him as a part of my life. His humor was my greatest therapy.
Is it not the time for our whole society to see the needs and respond to them, as Gabe did?
To learn more about Gabe and his Foundation and what we all can do to respond to these needs, please click on the appropriate links. If you have a memory you'd like to share, please use our guestbook. Or, watch a video about Gabe: The Making of a Caring Man.