Family donates life jackets in son's memory




A little more than two years ago, Pete and Heidi Rios lost their 2-year-old son, Gabriel, in a tragic drowning accident.

Now, the Garden City couple and their three surviving children hope that their donation to the Garden City Family YMCA will help other families avoid a similar tragedy.

Thanks to the generosity of the Rios family, the YMCA purchased 26 life jackets and a life jacket stand, which were unveiled Tuesday night at a brief ceremony at the YMCA. The purchase of the life jackets and stand were made possible by a $2,000 donation from the Rios family, who raised the money at a softball tournament in Gabriel's memory.

Gabriel died on Aug. 25, 2010, and every year since, they have held softball tournaments in his memory to raise money for a variety of causes.

"The first couple of years, we donated to different things that Gabriel was part of. We donated to the library for the Wee Readers program, and then last year we donated to the (Lee Richardson Zoo)," Heidi Rios said. "It just feels good to give and make a difference. ... We can go different places and see something we've done in his name."

Heidi Rios said that their decision to contribute to the YMCA was inspired by the loss of their son.

"This year, we wanted to fund pool safety since it was a pool incident. It was a pool incident, not a swimming incident," Heidi Rios said. "So we just thought we were brave enough to venture this way this year, and there was a need at the Y for life jackets."

She was joined by her husband, their other three children, Bonnie Lucero, 11, Katrina Lucero, 9, and Matthew Lucero, 1, as well as her mother, Reba Heath, and other friends and family. Heidi Rios said that children from Gabriel's day care also were on hand for the event.

Chad Knight, CEO of the YMCA, expressed his appreciation to the Rios family prior to unveiling the life jackets and life jacket stand Tuesday night.

"I just want to thank the Rios family for the donation. Being a nonprofit organization, we rely on contributions like this," Knight said.

The 26 yellow, blue and green life jackets that the family donation was used to purchase came in all different sizes and were something that Monica Colburn, aquatics director at the YMCA, said were badly needed.

"We have about 15 child-sized jackets that are like 12 years or older. We didn't have a lot of little life jackets for littler kids, and some of them were in pretty bad shape, so this is a wonderful contribution," Colburn said.

Colburn said that the life jackets will be provided for any child who feels unsafe in the water.

"We use them in our swim lesson program to teach kids life jacket safety, and water safety is just something that's so important for everybody to know," Colburn said. "This is a great contribution to the YMCA for us to be able to help other children learn to swim and be safe when they're in the water."

After the unveiling, the kids present were fitted with the new life jackets prior to playing in the wading pool.

After fitting her son, Matthew, with one of the smaller-sized jackets, Rios said, "We named him Matthew, which means gift from God, and his middle name is Israel and that means to persevere. So we always say, 'He's our gift from God to persevere in what we've been through.'"

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