By Jessica Easthope
Gianna Gambino’s three younger siblings can’t name their happiest memory with their sister – there are just too many.
“She had a lot of great memories so I don’t really know,” said her sister Briella.
But one thing they’re sure of is she was the perfect role model. Gianna lost her battle with osteosarcoma on February 19, just two months shy of her 13th birthday.
The Gambino’s lives will never be the same – but through their loss – they want to inspire people to live like Gianna.
“Gianna gave everyone a reason to smile, the other kids would just brighten up when they were around here, she made everyone see the positive side of things,” said Gianna’s aunt and godmother, Taryn Cararo.
Now, her family and her elementary school PS 222 in Marine Park are making sure her legacy lives on. Sitting in her old schoolyard is Gianna’s Buddy Bench since she was known for being a friend to everyone. Now her name serves as a reminder to be kind – and the bench, a refuge for any kid who’s lonely or left out: two things Gianna never let anyone feel.
“We felt like this bench here and the colors in the middle of the schoolyard were inviting for kids who felt they needed a new friend of felt left out and it’s a way of just memorializing and reminding people live like Gianna, be kind and make someone feel good,” said Gianna’a mom, Jillian.
Even in her darkest day, Gianna’s life was full of faith. Father Thomas Doyle, the pastor of Good Shepherd Church where the Gambinos are parishioners and Gianna sang in the children’s choir says her impact on his life is forever.
“In 37 years of being a priest, this was the hard one because you saw how positive she was and you saw the community come together and that’s how we’re supposed to be,” said Father Doyle. “You had a 12-year-old who taught us how to live.”
Now with her buddy bench, Gianna’s memory will be one of inclusion. Her father Carl says it represents everything she was.
“If you don’t put yourself first and put others first … it’s basically living like Jesus,” Carl said. That’s the effect it has to have peace in the world.”
The next time the bench reminds someone to share a smile, warm a heart or be a friend – that’s all part of the ‘Gianna effect.’