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Earth ‘Angel’

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Some children in the Buena-Clinton neighborhood of Garden Grove call Gayle Knight “the Church Lady.” And with good reason: Knight has been taking underprivileged children from the low-income area to church nearly every Sunday for the last eight years.

But the earthly title may not fully describe the Seal Beach woman, who is the founder of Helping Others Prepare for Eternity, or HOPE.

Cathy Escobedo, 33, who met Knight in 1998 while living in a shelter that Knight was visiting, said she and her five children “see Gayle as an angel sent from heaven. I believe God works through her to help others.”

Knight began HOPE in 1991, shortly after she discovered that a woman who had asked if she could clean Knight’s house was from a domestic-violence shelter. She became friends with the woman’s family and started taking them to church. She would ask other neighborhood children if they wanted to go, and soon, with the help of others, as many as 30 children were going to church with her.

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HOPE, a nonprofit, public benefit organization with a board of seven volunteers, now has services that include transitional living for the battered, tutoring, financial aid and health treatment for terminally ill children.

Each Child Gets Loving Attention

Knight, who works for a title insurance company, spent much of the past weekend doing what she said she loves doing the most. On Friday, Knight drove one of the vans that brought 27 Buena-Clinton children and three formerly battered mothers to a holiday breakfast in Seal Beach. At the breakfast she gave each child the attention a loving mother would.

On Sunday at 8:30 a.m., she was back in her “adopted” neighborhood, greeting each sleepy-eyed child and helping them pile into her van. On this Sunday, 14 children had breakfast at Main Place Christian Church in Tustin, which is a church with Spanish-language translation. Then the children sat and watched the church’s production of “A Christmas Carol” and on the way home were treated by Knight to some tacos for later. Back at the neighborhood, Knight handed each child a couple of wrapped Christmas gifts as they headed home with tacos in hand.

Knight, a Seal Beach resident for 25 years, credits God, a supportive husband and a giving father for her dedication. Reno Albert Gaudino, her father, died more than a year ago. During the time of his illness and afterward, her direction and giving have intensified.

“I have my gift [of giving] from my father,” she said. “He was the giver of all givers.”

Escobedo, who no longer lives in a shelter, said Knight’s impact on her life is beyond words.

“She still keeps in touch with me,” she said. “I can’t explain how much Gayle and HOPE have meant to me.”

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Alex Murashko can be reached at (714) 966-5974.


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