Growing care for paralytics, plant by plant

05/10/2012

Pumpkin, sunflower, kale, garlic, lettuce, roses, aloe, sedum, cosmos, hollyhock: Only speckles of concrete could be seen under the masses of plants that consumed Aneice Taylor’s Woodacre driveway last weekend. For those who just discovered the (18th annual) In Spirit plant sale by chance, the plants meant added decor to a home or garden. But for about 20 low-income quadriplegics in Marin County, proceeds from plant sales meant the difference between living independently at home and living dependent upon others.

The plant sale, which continues this Saturday, is In Spirit’s biggest fundraising event of the year—and “get’s bigger every year,” Amy Valens, a longtime volunteer and friend to In Spirit said. “When people come to the sale and experience Aneice, and experience the positivity of the environment, all they want to do is help.” A few dollars at a time, that’s exactly what residents of San Geronimo Valley are doing: paying for the attendant services and medical equipment needs of In Spirit’s special needs clients.

“Every little bit helps,” Taylor, who knows first-hand the struggles of being an independent paralytic, said. Taylor became paralyzed during the winter flood of 1982, when her Lagunitas home was destroyed by a mudslide. With the humble earnings from her previous position as a teacher, Taylor, who was determined to stay in her house and continue to raise her kids, learned just how lacking the resources were for low-income quadriplegics.

When it came to finances, her options were limited. “I kept trying to figure out how I could bring in money,” Taylor said. “The only thing I could think of was creating a nonprofit that would help myself and others in my shoes.” In 1987 she established In Spirit.

Taylor receives financial support from In-Home Supportive Services, a federal program from low-income individuals with disabilities, but the program doesn’t compensate home care workers—commonly called attendants—well, resulting in a shallow pool of workers available to those in need. “It’s inadequate,” Taylor said of the program. “Quadriplegics need assistance with almost all daily activities—getting out of bed, using the toilet, feeding, dressing.” The list goes on, and doesn’t end inside the home. “If you want to work or be active in the community, you need attendants to help make that possible.”

Most of In Spirit’s clients don’t receive federal in-home support funding, as their social security or disability salaries push them just over the maximum income level needed. “People like this are supposed to provide everything for themselves—their rent, their food, their medical supplies—it doesn’t leave much room for attendant care,” Taylor said. And that’s when paralytics end up in detrimental situations. “People end up alone a lot. One woman we took on didn’t have someone to put her in bed every night, so she would spend some nights sleeping in her chair.”

That’s where In Spirit comes in. “It’s really meant to fulfill their basic needs, to stay healthy and happy, to stay in their own home, not in pain, and not isolated,” Taylor said. But the organization goes beyond just providing funding. Taylor fights for quadriplegics less capable than herself, working as a legislative advocate to improve and protect services through In-Home Supportive Services, which, due to the economic downturn, faces budget cuts and has already shrunk its services. Even In Spirit, which relies on private funders, has lost sponsors.

What started as a small plant and tea sale 18 years ago that brought in $1,000 now brings in hundreds of shoppers and over $10,000. This year 70 volunteers helped to grow, gather, and sell thousands plants, and five nurseries made donations.

A visit to the plant sale would give you the impression that all of San Geronimo Valley is involved. Students, neighbors, and even strangers were lending a hand; some, including elementary school students, started long before the weekend sale. For 10 years, students of the Lagunitas School’s Open Classroom program have been growing vegetables and flowers in the school garden and green house specifically for In Spirit—a project begun by now retired volunteer school gardener Karen Zaccaglini. And a handful of students help out in Taylor’s garden, much of the produce from which is grown for the sale.

Of all the vegetables found at the plant sale, none were more plentiful than the tomato. “It’s a hobby that got a little out of control,” Dan Emery, known as “Tomato Dan,” said. Emery, who started by way of mowing Taylor’s lawns, has been volunteering for In Spirit for two years. “Once I saw the greenhouse, I said, ‘Eureka!’” Emery said.

That greenhouse is flanked by a vegetable garden and smooth red brick pathway—one that took years to build. Taylor recounts the several trips she and her attendants took to the factory to collect discounted bricks. Friends would gather a few times out of the year at Taylor’s house for work parties, during which they would lay about 20 feet of brick. After six years, the entire yard was filled with red brick pathways, allowing Taylor to travel around the garden as she pleases. It’s just one of the many helpful attributes of Taylor’s home, which was designed and built by volunteers and friends over 29 years ago.

With a community that has never let her down, Taylor considers herself one of the lucky ones—another reason why she tries to help those who aren’t so fortunate. “This was almost like destiny,” she said. “I became someone who could really speak for quadriplegics.”

The plant sale concludes May 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 2 Grant Street, in Woodacre.