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The Meritage Resort and Spa

Article by Jeff Arnold

Emilia Gonzalez's work as an infection control nurse inspired Joseph McCloud to nominate his bride-to-be for an all-expenses paid wedding.

Joseph McCloud admits there was a time when he was so concerned about his fiancée's well-being that he almost asked her to quit her job as a nurse.

At the same time, the Castro Valley resident was stressing over how he would pay for the couple's wedding, which was postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that's when McCloud entered the couple into a contest to win a $30,000 wedding at the Meritage Resort & Spa. Thousands of front-line workers and other emergency personnel entered; but when it came time to choose a grand prize winner, there was just something about McCloud's story that stood out and resonated with those charged with selecting a winner.

McCloud's fiancée, Emilia Gonzalez, works as an infection control nurse at a local nursing home, which placed her on the front line when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Like others in her position, Gonzalez was committed to her work but also had concerns about the exposure to the virus that her job created — especially while dealing with residents considered the most vulnerable because of their age and medical condition.

For Gonzalez, the idea of stepping away never crossed her mind. But it also created stress not only on her but on the man she had agreed to marry.

"It was the hardest year of my career of being a nurse," Gonzalez said in a video released by the resort. "We tried our best to not let the COVID virus in the (nursing facility), but unfortunately somebody brought it in, and it was like a fire."

Gonzalez, who has worked as a nurse for almost seven years, said an outbreak lasted nearly two months in the late summer at the facility. Each day, she continued to report to work and has remained on call 24 hours a day while she attempted to "keep her stuff together."

As he watched his fiancée struggle coping with the daily pressures of her work, McCloud entered the free wedding contest. He worked with Gonzalez's boss, who was also serving as the couple's wedding coordinator. Gonzalez eventually learned that McCloud had put them into the running for a wedding that would allow 100 guests, but never expected that their story would be selected as the one that would pay for their big day.

McCloud, himself an essential worker, took on extra duties at home and cooked all of the couple's meals — a task he considered difficult even though it was nothing compared to what his fiancée was going through. He constantly watched Netflix searching for new recipes and meal prep hacks that would make his job easier, McCloud said in the video.

The demands of the couple's jobs kept them from spending much quality time together, which only put more stress on the wedding planning, he said. Every time Gonzalez came home, McCloud said the thoughts of "what if" remained in the back of his mind as he hoped against hope that she could avoid contracting COVID-19.

"It was a lot," McCloud said in the video. "It still is, but we're managing it and we've all had to adapt to — and it is something that, unfortunately, has become part of our daily lives."

When McCloud brought up the notion of Gonzalez quitting her job, she informed him that walking away wasn't an option.

"I had to explain to him that … this is the time for me to support everybody like the community, my co-workers, our residents, our patients," she said in the video. "I cannot just quit because you want me to quit because you're worried about my health."

While speaking via Zoom with Joe Leinacker, the managing director at the Napa resort, Gonzalez and McCloud were informed that they were among the finalists for the dream wedding package. But it wasn't until the final minutes of the eight-minute video that the local couple was told that their wedding costs were being covered and that they could begin to plan to hold their ceremony at the resort later this month.

The news ushered in a sea of emotions as both the bride- and groom-to-be tried to cope with the happy news. The tears came from both after Leinacker asked the couple, "How does it feel to know that you're our grand prize winner?"

The couple embraced one another as they shared in the happiness that they no longer had to worry about how they would cover the cost of the wedding.

Through their tears, they attempted to put into words what the gesture meant. Both kept saying "thank you" as they continued to share the moment, before McCloud finally put his feelings into words.

"I swear, I swear this is the most touching thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life," McCloud said. "It just means so much."

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