I was born in Southern China, and when I was a baby, I was found in a box on a sidewalk, wrapped in a black leather jacket. Someone took me to an orphanage that housed 300 other baby girls with just 12 nannies to care for all of us.
At 11 months, I was adopted by my Spokane family. I’ve always had a speech impediment, so I was an extremely shy, parent-clinging young child. When they took me to daycare, I would howl and bawl until I’d created a huge, embarrassing scene for everyone.
Three years ago, my parents shoved me, a painfully timid 13-year-old, through the doors of the YMCA into the Youth and Government program, reassuring me I’d love it. I was freaking out. I was going to have to form and express my own opinions and ideas to strangers! What if the other teens and adults can’t understand me? What if I am humiliated by my speech impediment? What if?!
Turns out, my parents were right; I loved the YMCA Youth and Government. My advisors and teammates were incredibly supportive. The more I spoke in front of everyone, the braver I became. I loved it so much that when I got my bill book, I read each of the 400 bills, researching and preparing to debate ideas I believed in. Because of that hard work, I was named Future Congressman at the Washington State Capitol! Walking down the aisle of the House of Representatives to that thunderous applause changed my life. I went from barely being able to speak to an audience, to speaking to the entire Spokane City Council to put my values into law! I became courageous enough to advocate for the YMCA to Congress at the Capitol in D.C.! I later joined YMCA Mock Trial, no longer afraid.
All of this was made possible by my encouraging family, and by the YMCA of the Inland Northwest. A Chinese parable says, “A lotus is a beautiful flower, but the start of this flower is not as beautiful as one imagines. Unlike other flowers, the lotus starts out in the dirty, murky mud of ponds and streams. Despite its humble beginnings, it grows strong and resilient, and it pushes up through the mud to the open air, where its beautiful pink petals blossom, unblemished.”
The Y helped me find my voice. The Y helped me blossom.
You can watch Gabby and her mother Suzanne tell her story in their own words below.