By Jessica Easthope
Izzy and Grace are inseparable – but they’re nothing like other best friends.
Izzy leans on Grace, when they’re walking down the stairs or down the hall at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Bayside, Queens. That’s because for Izzy, Grace is her caretaker.
“I usually walk with her and hold on to her, or if I can’t see something, she’ll read it to me and sometimes people aren’t always willing to do that,” said Izzy Gamarra, who is considered legally blind.
For the girls, there’s nothing special about their friendship – navigating the world together is all they’ve ever known. Izzy was only seven years old when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that took her sight. That was when Grace took on a new role in her life.
“I can kind of see when she’s struggling most of the time and when I can’t, you always tell me, which I really like,” Grace said.
Arm in arm, Grace and Izzy are leaving the place where their friendship began and starting a new chapter together: attending high school at Holy Cross in Flushing, Queens.
Jeanine Rana, a faculty member and alumna of Sacred Heart Catholic Academy spoke about the importance of Catholic education.
“That’s what I grew up with, in this building and after all these years,” Jeanine said. “Catholic school is still instilling good and love in children.”
Over the last year, Jeanine was inspired by Grace and Izzy’s bond. Still in touch with her Sacred Heart classmates from more than 30 years ago, Jeanine reached out to tell them about the girls and within hours, they raised more than $2,000 dollars. The alumna decided to give the funds to the girls as a surprise scholarship at graduation.
“We wanted them to feel what we feel and hope and pray that 30-something years later, they can do the same for others,” she said.
The girls were blown away, but for their moms, it was a moment of pride.
“Grace had really took on that role very young, I think without realizing it, and I know when Izzy is out of the house with Grace, I know she’s safe,” said Izzy’s mom, Danielle Chase. “You can’t fake what Grace does.”
“She was given this gift of Izzy earlier than some people get it,” said Peggy McKenna, Grace’s mom. “That’s really how we look at it and treat this situation – it really is a gift.”
The girls began living in the same two-family home a few years ago, but getting sick of each other was never an option.
“I tell her everything, she’s my go-to person,” Grace said. “She understands what I’m trying to say because sometimes I don’t want to say it, but she still gets everything.”
You might think Izzy needs Grace, but if you look closer – you realize – just like any other best friend, they need each other.