Tragic Loss of Brother Inspires Student to Share Gift of Life

Gabrielle Penna (left) with parents Robert and Melanie Penna at the Support Saving 8 fundraiser basketball tournament at Salesianum

Gabrielle Penna had a goal. She wanted to raise awareness for the Gift of Life program while at the same time bringing together an entire community of local high school students and their families.

Gabrielle was deeply motivated to make the idea a reality. Her brother Anthony became an organ donor after he tragically passed away in a car accident in October, 2017.

Gabrielle, now a 17-year-old junior at Archmere Academy, was determined to honor her brother’s legacy of organ donation and worked to bring together students from eight schools to host a spring event at Salesianum School. 


The idea came to her months ago.

She wanted to raise money to offset Gift of Life costs for donors while bringing the Wilmington community together. She reached out to student representatives at Archmere Academy, Salesianum School, Ursuline Academy, Padua Academy, Sanford School, Tatnall School, Wilmington Friends, and Charter School of Wilmington.

Students from seven schools participated in the Support Saving 8 basketball tournament fundraiser

The students decided to name their event Support Saving 8 highlighting two themes: that eight schools were coming together to bring awareness to organ donations and that just one organ donor has the potential to save eight lives.

With a March 30th date now set, and March Madness underway, Gabrielle thought, what better fundraiser than a basketball tournament?

The school representatives brainstormed ideas, with Penna spearheading the event. Representatives included:
Trip Murphy  –  Charter School of Wilmington
Katie Tyndall  –  Padua Academy
Lauren Cool  –  Ursuline Academy
Thomas Wirt  –  Salesianum School
Julianna Barry  –  Tatnall School
Anna Baldwin  –  Wilmington Friends
Natalie Bianchi  –  Sanford School


After months of planning, seventeen teams showed up to compete for bragging rights at the Support Saving 8 event. Some of the players were Varsity athletes, but many were regular students who just wanted to come out and support a great cause.  

Teams included five from Salesianum, one from Ursuline, two from Tatnall, two from Archmere, one from Sanford, three from Padua, and three from Wilmington Friends.

Charter School of Wilmington students had hoped to participate, but the event date ultimately conflicted with their annual Charterthon for the Andrew McDonough B+ Foundation.

Gabrielle Penna (third from right) with members of the winning Sanford team and three representatives from the Gift of Life

Participants and spectators became part of something special.

The basketball match-ups were loads of fun. But the crowds went crazy when an incredible four teams in a row made impossible half-court shots. 

An anonymous donor made it possible for each of those teams to receive $500 for their successful half court baskets. This same donor matched each winning shot, donating $500 in each of the participants’ names to Gift of Life.

The winning team for the tournament was a group from Sanford, made up of four boys and one girl. But everyone at the event walked away winners.

The first event of its kind, several students and adults had the opportunity to become organ donors thanks to a Guft of Life kiosk on site.

They collectively raised $3,000 (thanks to a $5 entry fee for both participants and players), which will be used to offset the cost of transportation to the Donor Dash in Philadelphia on April 14th. The walk/run event will include donor families, recipients, and those waiting for organ donation. Any remaining funds will go directly to Gift of Life program in the name of the Support Saving 8’s sponsor, Dr. Michael Abdoney.

When asked what her brother, Anthony, would have thought of the community’s outpouring of support for Gift of Life, Gabrielle shared a wonderful sentiment about her older brother. “Anthony was all about people. He loved his friends and would have been thrilled that all of these schools came together for a day of fun and a day of giving.

“He really would have loved that it involved his classmates and peers at other schools. I know he was there in spirit when four half-court shots in a row made it in. That was Anthony. He would be really happy that money was going to help other people live.”

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About the Contributor

Thomasine Bianchi

Thomasine Bianchi

Thomasine Bianchi is a former Math educator who now works as a referral coordinator for her husband’s primary care practice. She is the proud mom of two high school daughters. She is co-founder of a local breast cancer fundraising campaign and volunteers in various areas of her local community. 91887/