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Gabriella gets her wish Donations to help former Hamburg girl skate with SABAH

Former Hamburg resident Gabriella Hall, who's all of 8 years old, knew exactly what she wanted when she had a chance to have a special wish granted by the Texas Wishing Well Foundation.

The Texas girl wanted to return to Buffalo to skate with the Skating Athletes Bold at Heart, known as SABAH.

The trip was all set, and Gabriella -- who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker -- was set to come here Monday, until the Texas Wishing Well Foundation went dry.

Imagine the task that Holly Andrews faced when she had to tell her daughter that the funds raised for her trip from Corsicana, Texas, to Buffalo apparently were gone.

"I told her there are bad people out there, but there are more good people, and there has to be a guardian angel out there," her mother said.

Actually, lots of guardian angels have raised a few thousand dollars in the last two weeks after Gabriella's story became big news in Texas.

The trip now promises to be better than originally planned. Gabriella and her mother are scheduled to fly to Buffalo on Thursday, stay here for a week and then meet other family members in New York City for three more days.

"I think it's awesome," Gabriella said in a minute-long phone interview Monday. "I've always been dreaming of coming [back] there, but I've never had the chance."

Her mother recalled what Gabriella said about the group that didn't come up with the approximately $4,000 raised for her trip: "Mommy, if I could walk, I would find these people, and they would go to jail."

Instead, she's flying to Buffalo, to skate with SABAH and go trick-or-treating with her friend here, Logan Delmont.

"We're just absolutely thrilled that she's coming and that SABAH made such an indelible imprint on her," said Sheila O'Brien, SABAH's executive director.

O'Brien cited the freedom that many children with disabilities feel on the ice, a freedom they often can't re-create in other parts of their lives.

"We're excited that we can be a small part in making somebody's dream come true," she said.

This story actually dates back about five years. Gabriella skated with SABAH for two years when she lived in Hamburg, at age 3 and 4, while her father worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"She loved it," her mother said. "She's always talked about going back to Buffalo and skating."

Last spring, Andrews, who is now a single mother and full-time student, was in a Wal-Mart parking lot and saw a Wishing Well Foundation poster about a severely burned child. She gave a couple of dollars on behalf of the child and told the Wishing Well people about her daughter.

They indicated they wanted to do a similar fundraising effort for Gabriella.

The effort last spring raised about $4,000.

The trip couldn't be arranged last spring, before SABAH's skating season ended, so it was scheduled for this month.

Three weeks ago, Andrews tried to contact the Texas Wishing Well Foundation, which apparently is an independent group.

Its Web site had been shut down, and she couldn't reach the organization's leaders.

About two weeks ago, she got a return call from a Wishing Well assistant, who told her that the money was gone, along with the group's leaders.

"I was just devastated," Andrews said. "I didn't know what to do."

What she didn't do, at first, was tell her daughter.

In Houston, meanwhile, television station KHOU-TV carried a story about Tanner McGuire, a boy who had wanted to meet celebrity chef Bobby Flay but had suffered the same fate. Andrews drove to Houston to do an interview for that story. Then WFAA-TV, KHOU's sister station in Dallas-Fort Worth, ran a story.

"I had to tell her, but the first thing I told her was, 'We're going to go, no matter what we have to do,' " Andrews said.

Then the donations started pouring in. American Airlines donated the plane tickets for Gabriella and her mother. Benny Valek, an attorney in nearby Ennis, Texas, paid for the family's hotel room here. Flay arranged for Gabriella to go to New York City and meet Tanner there. And thanks to donations sent to WFAA-TV, the family has about $2,000 for meals, ground transportation and other expenses.

"I've been overwhelmed by how generous everyone has been," Andrews said. "It just shows what I told Gabriella, that there are more good people than bad people."

Andrews recalled a recent comment from her daughter.

"She said, 'There are angels out there, Mommy, aren't there?' "


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