By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Gabriella Carroll has had clear vision for about a year, ever since she realized people are only as beautiful as they believe themselves to be — even if they wear glasses.
That lesson came to Gabbi when she met a fellow youth leader at Camp Rad of the Santa Rosa Catholic Diocese in summer 2010. Gabriella, a recent Windsor High School grad, for years refused to wear glasses for reasons of vanity, even though it caused her great pain and discomfort.
Anne, the other camp leader, also wore glasses. But there was something about her.
In an essay she wrote that was published in a recent release of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, Gabbi said:
“Anne was kind, spiritual, fun and full of wisdom; she didn’t let wearing glasses get in the way of her outer — and inner — beauty. That epiphany made me feel a little better, and my confidence began to grow.”
“I was allowing my glasses to hold me back from the confident, happy person others perceived me to be,” she wrote.
But a lack of confidence hardly affected Gabbi’s academic performance: She graduated with a 4.5 grade point average and is now at St. Mary’s College, where she may study English, theology or women’s studies.
An avid music lover, Gabbi learned to play the flute when she was in the sixth grade, the violin in 11th grade and she picked up the guitar a year ago. She’s played in school bands since the sixth grade.
Gabbi grew up in Windsor. Her parents moved there from San Francisco. Her mother’s great-grandfather, Tomaso Simi, who originally was from Lucca, Italy, lived in Healdsburg.
Gabbi said her mother often visited Healdsburg when she was younger and that influenced the move to Sonoma County.
Family tradition has led to strong Roman Catholic roots, she said.
“Mom is 100 percent Italian and Dad is kind of a mut, a mixture of Irish, German and Dutch,” she said.
Throughout high school, Gabbi was involved in the Christian Club, although being a Christian teen wasn’t always easy.
“It was like a mixed blessing,” she said. “On the one hand, everything I did I had to be questioning .<TH>.<TH>. going to church Sunday instead of going to the beach .<TH>.<TH>. . It was hard because I didn’t have a lot of friends at school who were Catholic also.”
But what she gained from prayer and faith-related activities, particularly at Camp Rad, was infinitely more profound than an enviable tan.
When she attended Camp Rad in seventh and eighth grades, she was struck by how faith was so much a part of the lives of the counselors and others. It opened her eyes at an important time in her life.
“I feel like middle school is such a crucial time for personal growth,” she said. “It’s the age you’re trying to fit in and make everybody like you.”
The young people at Camp Rad, she said, don’t have to worry about that, giving counselors and camp leaders a space to help them build self-esteem and the strength to make the right choices.
Matt Conley, coordinator of youth ministry for St. Rose Church, said Gabbi has been a youth leader in the group for three years. Her work includes facilitating small groups, helping run meetings and teaching and mentoring youth.
“She notices where there’s a need and fills it and does so with care,” Conley said, adding that this year she was given a Heroes of Faith award by the diocese.
When asked what she wants to do for a career, Gabbi is intentionally vague. She loves to write, play music and tell stories.
“I have been told numerous times by middle-school kids that I am a role model to them,” she said. “I feel I have the blessed opportunity and responsibility to be a person of love, faith and service to others in order to be a living example for these kids that look up to me. I want to be a light for them.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin. firstname.lastname@example.org.