IRMO, SC (WIS) - TV host and Celebrity Apprentice Leeza Gibbons will be in Irmo Thursday for the grand opening of her new facility Leeza's Care Connection.
Gibbons claimed the title of NBC and Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice last year, and with it, $700,000 in prize money. She said her dream was to bring those winnings back to South Carolina to start one of her Leeza's Care Connections for caregivers in the very neighborhood where she grew up.
"I've been doing this work for 12 years, but I've never had an opportunity to open Leeza's Care Connection in my neighborhood, where I grew up. Where my family lived," said Gibbons.
But Thursday that changes. Gibbons spent Wednesday putting the finishing touches on Leeza's Care Connection in Irmo's Whitehall neighborhood.
"This is the payoff, it's the payoff of the promise that I made my mother that I would tell our story and try to make it count," said Gibbons. "It's the payoff of the pledge to take our earnings from Celebrity Apprentice and invest them back home."
That investment has come to life in the 59-year-old Michael J. and Mary Meech Mungo Home just off St. Andrews Road. The house has been transformed into a nonprofit facility for caregivers. The new facility features several renovated rooms including her Care Café, Serenity Lounge, and Warriors of Wellness program presented by Lexington Medical Center.
"Everything we offer is free, and its programs and services and support to help people on their journey as they adjust to their new normal," said Gibbons.
It's a normal that Gibbons' family knows all too well. Gibbons' mom lost her battle to Alzheimer's disease in 2008. Gibbons' dad, Carlos Gibbons Sr., served as her mom's caregiver.
"I learned from my dad that no matter what happens in life it's always you and you get to decide how you deal with it," said Gibbons.
Leeza said her dad's example and spirit are now cornerstones at the new Irmo facility. Carlos now has his own pavilion behind the Leeza's Care Connection to prove it.
"I'm overwhelmed! I hadn't seen it since way back when it first started construction or reconstruction," said Carlos as he looked around the new facility and saw the pavilion named in his honor for the first time alongside his daughter Leeza.
"As a caregiver myself, I wish I had a place to turn like this back 25 years ago when my wife was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's," added Carlos.
But now there is a place for the thousands of people who face the reality of caring for sick loved one where they don't have to do it alone.
"There is strength in our togetherness. There is wisdom in our connection, and that's what this community is about," said Leeza.
Gibbons adds it's the community that's made the Care Connection possible. Sponsors like Lexington Medical Center, The Michael J. Mungo Foundation, Palmetto Health, Penn Contracting, Southeastern Freight Lines, Benjamin Dover and US Foods will come together for a ribbon cutting at the home Thursday afternoon.
Thursday morning is a ceremony at Lexington Medical Center for Leeza's HUGS ambassador program. The first-of-its-kind program that stands for "Helping U Grow Strong" will train local experienced caregivers how to support other caregivers at Leeza's Care Connection.
Of course it was Donald Trump, the now presumptive GOP presidential nominee who chose Gibbons as his Celebrity Apprentice and contributed to the winnings that have help made the Care Connection possible. So we asked Gibbons if she's heard from him recently.
"I am expecting Trump to call me any minute now, where is he? He's got the hotline," said Gibbons jokingly. "It's been pretty quiet between Donald Trump and myself since he announced. I did get a call from him telling me he was going to announce and we haven't spoken since his campaign has really taken root. We don't share a lot of things politically, but we certainly share a desire to change things and a great love of family and loyalty and there's a lot of really good commonality there."
For more information on Leeza's Care Connection click here.