Hometown Hero: Carol Conforti-Adams makes space for the spinal cord injury community in her own backyard 

  • Carol Conforti-Adams and her dog, Echo, enjoy the trails in back of her home in South Sutton. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Carol Conforti-Adams and her dog, Echo, that she trained with her daughter, on the trails in back of her home in South Sutton. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Carol Conforti-Adams and her dog, Echo, who she trained with her daughter, on the trails behind her home in South Sutton. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Carol Conforti-Adams and her dog, Echo, that she trained with her daughter, on the trails in back of her home in South Sutton. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Carol Conforti-Adams and her dog, Echo, that she trained with her daughter, on the trails in back of her home in South Sutton. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/25/2022 8:01:57 PM

Sitting in her backyard, recovering from her second major car accident, Carol Conforti-Adams looked around. With views of the mountains and a full garden of flowers at her home in South Sutton, nature helped, she said.

“I sat here recovering and it was like this place let me heal,” she said.

It also gave her an idea of how to help others — shortly after, Conforti-Adams turned to neighbor Andy Jeffrey to help develop Nature’s Way, a series of programming in Conforti-Adams’ backyard that helps people connect with themselves and nature. This is the most recent of many initiatives Conforti-Adams has developed to help people with disabilities, like herself.

Almost 20 years ago, Conforti-Adams was in a car accident that left her paralyzed. She has no feeling from her chest down, now navigating her way in an elevated motorized wheelchair.

Echo, her 5-year-old Gordon Setter service dog, can get out credit cards and money for Conforti-Adams. She trained him herself with her daughter.

With the help of Echo, her chair and neighbors like Jeffrey and his wife Dorothy, Conforti-Adams lives alone in her Sutton house, where she’s lived for over 40 years.

“It’s so nice. I have to pinch myself sometimes,” she said. “Am I really here? Or am I in paradise of Heaven? Is this what Heaven’s supposed to look like?”

When Conforti-Adams was paralyzed, she had two kids in middle school. She learned to navigate her new life in the chair. In doing so, she needed to find a purpose.

“It’s so important for people, anybody no matter where you are in your life, but for people that are physically disabled, you know, especially if they’ve had a walking life and then don’t anymore,” she said. “Sometimes, you need to refocus.”

That refocus came in the form of teaching through a night program at her local high school, helping students get their high school diploma outside of school hours. She then started a career development program for young adults and people with physical disabilities.

Soon came the founding of Wheelchair Health in Motion. It began with two women in their 20s who were also quadriplegic, like Conforti-Adams. One of the women is still a WHIM staff member today.

The mission of motivating others is what drives her.

“We’re not going to get up and walk again. But how can you have a purposeful life and a meaningful life after things change?” she said.

Through WHIM, Conforti-Adams and her team created a community for people in wheelchairs who were looking to connect. They held sessions where they did chair exercises throughout the state. They also organized adaptive sports and excursions like kayaking, skiing, biking and exploring accessible trails in New Hampshire.

On one adventure, they rode bikes through the empty floors of Steeplegate Mall after its closing.

“Carol has been great in terms of developing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to get out and experience recreation,” said Dorothy.

Sunset Hill Education Institute is the parent to all of her initiatives. It is a non-profit, founded by Conforti-Adams, that helps motivate young people and those with disabilities.

Nature’s Way is the latest installment in offerings — all of which are free of cost, funded through grants and donations.

Through Nature’s Way, Conforti-Adams invites participants into her backyard. Since she sat there, healing from her second car accident in 2020, the space has been transformed from a garden to an accessible outdoor classroom of sorts.

Paths across her backyard were widened and paved — now wheelchair accessible with hard-packed gravel. They lead guests to distinct areas of the garden, each of which correlates to components of Nature’s Way lessons.

Andy, who is a holistic health and wellness life coach, designed the program. Nature’s Way curriculum consists of three levels: the nature of nature, the nature of humans and harnessing nature’s potential.

Each level has a series of sessions, totaling six hours, where participants learn to connect with themselves, nature and practice mindfulness. This summer, 25 people participated.

“There’s so many lessons that we can learn from nature but the most important is that Nature never gets trapped in the past. Nature is always looking forward to experience new forms of growth,” said Andy.

In hosting these sessions in Conforti-Adam’s backyard, she also provides an accessible space that people with spinal cord injuries know and trust, she said.

She hosted a bridal party group. She had a father-daughter duo come for a Father’s Day excursion. She even hosted a small wedding later in the summer for a Nature’s Way participant.

“This isn’t my home. I mean, I happen to live here, but it’s really here for everybody,” she said.

In participating in her programming, many people with spinal cord injuries have also found a connection to a community of people who are also in wheelchairs.

One visitor this summer had not left the house in seven years since his spinal cord injury. He joined 15 other people in Conforti-Adams’s backyard for a gathering.

“This was the first time that they felt safe enough and supported enough to try it as a bit of an adventure,” said Andy.

That connection extends beyond the spinal cord community. At the heart of Conforti-Adams’ endeavors, she brings people together at a time when many need it most.

“One of the broad themes of all of Carol’s work that comes together is that sort of the remedy for today’s chaos and polarization is local — local community and making connections in your community can transcend. You have way more in common with your neighbor than sometimes we stop and give it credit for,” said Andy. “Everything Carol does is just knitting together community.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.



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