Gabby VignoneOct. 24, 2023 - Nicknamed “Gabby” when she and her friends hung out on the streets of Santa Barbara, CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) 2023 Distinguished Alumni “Gabby” Vignone believes her formal name, “Gabrielle,” now suits her better.

“I think I’ve gotten to that ‘change’ point in life,” said Vignone, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in English. “I think we don’t know who we are for a while as we go through different changes and experiences that bring us to where we are now.”

Vignone will share the story of her evolution with the 350 guests expected to attend CSUCI’s 21st Annual President’s Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 28.

For Vignone, those experiences have included giving birth at 15, having her best friend killed by a train, falling in love with a man, raising four children with him, and having him die in prison.

“I spent a lot of my life in the survival stage,” Vignone said. “It was ‘do we have enough money, do we have enough food? What do we do next?’”

With encouragement from CSUCI Professor (now Emeritus) Joan Peters, Vignone turned her struggles into compelling stories and ultimately, into her first book. When some of the passages from the book, “Mi Chaos: A Chola Love Story,” were published in the Santa Barbara Independent, readers wanted to know where they could read more.

“Joan gave me the gift of seeing how things are strung together,” Vignone said. “I’m very good at short stories, but Joan taught me how to weave the stories into a book.”

Peters met Vignone when Vignone took one of her classes. Peters admitted to being floored at how raw, honest and well-written Vignone’s stories were - especially one of her earlier pieces about her son’s first grand mal seizure.

“Gabby wrote with an energy so fierce that when a computer wasn't available, she'd write on her phone,” Peters said. “And did this with a full-time job and three children to raise on her own!”

Her children, CSUCI and Peters ignited Vignone’s determination to use her college degree to turn her life into a success story.

After graduating from CSUCI, Vignone shifted into the non-profit sector, managing low-income and farm worker housing.

“I took that role and treated people the way I would want to be treated,” she said. “I started a food share program there. I had residents who didn’t have documents to work, or never had a job before and now they had something to put on a resume.”

She made sure the kids had backpacks and got on the “Toys for Tots” list every Christmas.

Vignone continued to advance her education and moved up in the housing world, and two years ago, Vignone became the Executive Director at House Farm Workers! a non-profit organization dedicated to finding affordable, safe, and stable housing for farmworkers.

Upon learning she had been chosen as the 2023 Distinguished Alumnus, Vignone was surprised and honored.

“To get any recognition at any level, even if it’s just a thank you…it’s special,” she said. “I did a lot of things going through my life where there was no thank you.”

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