I Care is a weekly photo column authored and photographed by Autumn Payne which appears in the Sacramento Bee each Monday. The column profiles one volunteer a week and is an artistic exploration of why people care about what they do. To suggest someone to appear in the I Care column please email Autumn Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The activity room is dim at Sky Park Gardens Assisted Living in South Sacramento until an orange-clad clown named Sammie sweeps in as sweet as the sunshine. Quietly, compassionately she seeks a connection with each senior or disabled person in the room. She is goofy, she laughs, she plays with them. She sings “Let Me Call you Sweetheart,” looking deep into the teary eyes of a tired soul.
“Would you like to dance,” she asks Andrew Robertson, right, who is hesitant at first but can’t resist her coaxing. Suzanna Hoye is a professional clown with part of her business being “clown care” for seniors. As the economy faltered some facilities could no longer afford to hire her, but Hoye still comes. “How many people are lonely and need that connection?” she says. “It’s feeding my soul to be so close to people and the extra attention is so important.”
One by one women from many walks of life line up to receive a warm breakfast served with an even warmer smile at Wellspring Women’s Center in Oak Park. “Do you want some eggs?” 14-year-old Isabella Powers asks. “How are you today?” she inquires with a sweet youthful eagerness that charms the guests.
Powers began volunteering here when she was 9. When she sees a problem she moves into action. She is starting a campaign at school to collect used forks, spoons and mugs for the center, which is running short. For her 10th birthday she asked for school supplies for the children at Wellspring. Seeing people’s appreciation is her present, she says. “We’re here to help others. You can’t make this world a better place by just focusing on yourself. It’s the ripple effect. You’re making an impact, then other people do the same.”
A match is struck and a hope candle is lit. A sacred space is created where those struggling with cancer can discover and develop their inner strength. Patti Brown, right, gently tends this space. She guides the women in a soothing meditation where the unconscious mind is free to flourish and the spirit is nourished.
Brown is the founder of Wellness Within, a Roseville center offering free mind-body healing classes for cancer patients and survivors. It provides classes in nutrition, yoga, meditation and individual counseling.
“For people to allow you into a very raw vulnerable time is and honor,” says Brown. “I am completely awe-inspired by people’s stories. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so much bravery and courage in my life since I started this work.”
Strong-willed Taya Wieler, 2, right, struggles and cries as she receives treatment to keep her lungs clear of a thick life-threatening mucus caused by cystic fibrosis. Her mother, Amy Rovai-Wieler, patiently administers the medicine while her healthy daughter, Teagan, 5, cuddles them. Teagan’s twin, Taryn, also has cystic fibrosis. The pair must receive the 20-minute treatment up to six times daily.
Though the median age for survival for cystic fibrosis is 37, many die sooner. A simple winter cold can kill. To combat the disease, Ravai-Wieler has become an active fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which funds research for a cure. She has chaired the Great Strides walk for CFF in Sacramento for years and she founded Couture For A CF Cure, a website that sells handmade bows and other children’s accessories. “It’s added a purpose to everything we do,” she says. “The girls have learned it’s important to be advocates and give back.”
Five years ago Emerald Barkley, right, was attacked and nearly raped. She escaped but afterward decided to learn how to defend herself. “One out of four women have to deal with it,” she said. “It’s not the end of the world and there’s things you can do to overcome the experience and prevent it from happening again.”
On a late Wednesday night, Barkley focuses intensely on learning pencak silat, an Indonesian martial art taught by firefighter Rocky Twitchell. His silat lessons are offered free to women. Having been the victim of bullying himself as a child he hates injustice, especially against the elderly, women and children. “If I can teach a student, especially a woman, to stand her ground or fend off an attacker from being raped, beaten or manipulated, I feel I’m doing a great service to that person and the community,” he says.