It's a birthday celebration of a different kind. While the guest of honor wasn't in attendance, her spirit touched everyone at the ceremony.
Garth Keely was married to Bonita for 17 years. The high school sweethearts and their two daughters were living the American Dream. That's when Bonita was diagnosed with cancer.
"At that point in time, they had given her 12 to 18 months to be around and she beat all those estimates," says Keely.
Her next battle was Hurricane Katrina. The storm destroyed the Keely home.
Jeff Parness was one of the volunteers who traveled from New York to help rebuild the Keely home.
"We heard about her situation in Bay St. Louis. She was challenged with the dual task of trying to rebuild while also battling terminal cancer. To see somebody in that situation, still have the faith and courage to carry on. She was determined not to pass away until her house was built so that she knew it would be there for her husband and her daughters to live in," says Parness.
Bonita got her wish. The family moved back into their home just before she passed away and Jeff Parness says that was his inspiration for Bonita's wish. Now as dozens celebrate what would have been Bonita's 40th birthday, they are also celebrating an organization that's unique. It rebuilds the homes of cancer survivors.
"She must have had an outstanding wonderful personality. Because just keeps saying how bright and outgoing she was and that she made people laugh and happy and that she was always willing to help someone else. It also inspires me so that I can get better so that I can help someone else like they have helped me," says Cancer survivor Shirley Paulus.
Organizers from Bonita's Wish say they hope the group will serve as an inspiration to others rebuilding homes along the coast.