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"Wheels for Gabby" to raise money for community member in need

SAN DIEGO -- Community members will come together on Monday, Feb. 18, at Baja Betty's for the first in a series of fundraisers to help community member Gabriela "Gabby" Rodriguez raise funds for a down payment on an accessible van.

Friends are calling the effort "Wheels for Gabby."

The fundraiser will include a raffle, door prizes, drinks, appetizers and the opportunity to support Rodriguez.

Originally from Texas, Rodriguez, who participated on her high school swim team, became paralyzed from the neck down after incorrectly completing a practice dive and hitting the bottom of the pool in her freshmen year.

On that day - March 2, 1995 - doctors immediately put Rodriguez through surgery that altered her life forever. Doctors were not sure how much movement she would regain but after much therapy, Rodriguez was able to regain some upper body movement.

At the time of the accident, Rodriguez was labeled a quadriplegic because she had zero movement from the neck down, but today she is a quad/paraplegic because she is able to move her arms and upper torso, but lacks any movement in her hands and fingers.

In San Diego since 2008, Rodriguez has immersed herself in the community, becoming an avid volunteer for numerous nonprofit organizations and causes. Most notably, Rodriguez has been incredibly active with San Diego LGBT Pride, serving as a member of the organization's Pride 365 team.

According to Cheli Mohamed, San Diego Pride's Director of Community & Leadership Resources, Rodriguez spends numerous hours in the Pride Office assisting with volunteer resources, the volunteer database, and helps at special events and countless other projects.

"[Gabby] decided this was not enough," Mohamed wrote. "She wanted to get more involved and do more for our community. She was appointed to the Leadership and Development Work Group where she helps set the agenda and training curriculum for the Leadership Academy and Alumni Series, where she is also an instructor. Her energy and enthusiasm made her a perfect Coordinator for Volunteer Check-In at the Festival."

Mohamed says that Rodriguez has been instrumental in the success of the San Diego Pride festival's Volunteer Village.

"Her professionalism, unrelenting perseverance and dedication to the mission, values and goals of San Diego LGBT Pride make her a sought out commodity at San Diego LGBT Pride and the community at large," Mohamed said. "Gabby manages a full-time student load while working full-time as an Information & Referral Specialist at The San Diego LGBT Community Center."

In a plea to the community, Mohamed explains Rodriguez' needs:

"In my role as the Director of Leadership and Community Resources for San Diego LGBT Pride, I have witnessed firsthand Gabby’s personal commitment, her indomitable spirit, her compassion and most importantly her desire to help others in need. She raises the standards in every organization and/or event in which she has a part. She leads by example and is truly devoted to being a catalyst for change.

The last few months have been challenging for Gabby and her family, as her wheelchair van is in constant mechanical failure, leaving Gabby almost completely dependent on public transportation. Accessing and utilizing public transportation has been challenging, at best, and not the easiest to navigate. Nonetheless, Gabby continues to balance her work obligations, studies and volunteer commitments without any complaining. Finally at the end of 2012 her dear van died!

A new wheelchair van or all accessible vehicle would help ease the stress of commuting between home, school, work and volunteer commitments that are currently restricted and limited to hours of operation for public transportation. It would also assist her in achieving her goal of becoming Rehabilitation Counselor and inspiring others to achieve great things. "

The Feb. 18 fundraiser goes from 5-7 pm. Baja Betty's is located at 1421 University Ave. in Hillcrest.

For more information, click HERE.

UPDATE: According to Mohamed, Mo's Universe has agreed to match donations up to $1,000.