Loyal fans are counting every second of seeing Kathie Lee Gifford in her usual seat beside Hoda Kotb as precious on “Today.” This week, the beloved Kathie Lee is away seeing to her other projects, like the orchestral and contemporary faith-based music project in collaboration with Nicole C Mullen. That leaves just two weeks before her April departure that seemed so far away when she announced her plans to leave “Today” and embark on her “next chapter” in life last December.

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The “Today” staff. Including “Donnadorable,” girl Friday, Donna Farizan, and the lovingly-maligned producer, Gavin Shulman, known as “Fur Face,” have ensured that Kathie Lee Gifford cannot escape the tributes of the “Kathie Lee-ving” honors, as they are dubbed. Everything from Gifford’s very prolific career in television commercials to hosting for David Letterman has been celebrated.

This morning, March 20, brought a different sort of celebration for Kathie Lee, one that will carry on for generations, and long after she has passed from this life and into eternal realms.

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She greeted the children of Cassidy’s Place with the loving touch of a grandmother, even though that blessing of joy has not yet arrived for the woman who has done almost everything.

Kathie Lee Gifford was there to celebrate “Plant-a-Seed Day” but her roots to the place and the precious, growing children run deep and strong, and are sure to endure.

Building the future

As Gifford looked at the hallways and classrooms of Cassidy's Place, filled with children from infants to preschoolers, she reminisced with Gretchen Buchenholz, of New York City’s Association to Benefit Children. The photos were reminders of the beginnings of the outreach, which grew from providing care and health services to HIV-infected and crack-affected infants in 1996 into the preschool of today.

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Cassidy's Place serves children far below the poverty line, and some families are completely destitute or homeless.

Buchenholz confirms that the lives of the children “are complicated and full of stress” but in the environment of loving guidance and hands-on learning, “they thrive here.” She can also attest that Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford built the facility in honor of their daughter “brick by brick,” and each part of the wall is a part of their heart for the children.

Cody and Cassidy have now grown into professionals in their own right. Cody is an Oxford graduate, and Cassidy is pursuing her own acting career. Kathie Lee Gifford has spoken honestly about her completely unexpected status of being “an empty nester, an orphan and a widow all the same time.” These moments of overflowing curiosity, hugs, and energy had to bring enough warmth to see the host through the summer doldrums. Among the portraits are some of Frank tenderly holding children.

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“He just loved these children,” recalls Kathie Lee.

Digging into life

Kathie Lee tells one of her young horticulturists that the building where they are is named after her daughter, and answers another’s question with glee. When asked what will happen to the seeds they are planting, Gifford responds, “They are going to grow and be beautiful, just like you.”

Grow NYC sponsored the planting. President and CEO Marcel Van Ooyen relates that for young children living in a “concrete jungle,” the experience of planting a seed in the natural environment can be “life-changing.”

Kathie Lee Gifford praises that Gretchen Buchenholz has been “an angel to New York City” through many decades.

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In return, Gretchen insists that Gifford has been her “buddy angel” from the beginning.

Before Kathie Lee has the most life-changing phase of her life in the last few years, and after the last herb plant is lovingly watered by a little one, a special gift was offered.

A carved wooden bench was presented, with a plate, designating the date and the newly-planted “Gifford’s Garden.” The honoree was visibly moved.

The new seat is sure to welcome all future guests, and Kathie Lee Gifford back for many return visits.

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