Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Tacoma woman works to overcome disabilities and apparent theft

Patricia Newton and her service dog Peaches sit in her Tacoma apartment, September 2, 2015. Since her computer tablet was stolen, she has gone back to using the less practical laptop to show her artwork when she is out in the community.
Patricia Newton and her service dog Peaches sit in her Tacoma apartment, September 2, 2015. Since her computer tablet was stolen, she has gone back to using the less practical laptop to show her artwork when she is out in the community. Staff photographer

Patricia Newton is not a lucky woman around cars. She’s been in seven injury accidents, she says — six of those as a passenger, one as a driver.

“I’m jinxed,” the Tacoma woman said.

The worst one was in Aberdeen 18 years ago. That crash put her in a wheelchair.

“I’m not paralyzed, but I have nerve damage,” she said.

Newton has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a syndrome that has nightmarish symptoms — widespread chronic pain, exhaustion and an inability to focus. She has a service dog, a Maltese toy poodle named Peaches.

“I live every day with pain, I’m bipolar and I’m considered a high-functioning person with mental illness,” said Newton, 55. “Life is important. I function. You can’t help mental illness, you can try to deal with it.”

One of the ways Newton deals with her challenges is through The Power Crews, a Pierce County organization whose goal is “empowering people with disabilities to become self-employed.”

Newton, who once had a photography business, now sells photos and artwork at local farmer’s markets and community events. She and other Power Crews members operate booths there.

In mid-August, Newton worked two hours in the booth at the McKinley Street Fair, then went out to explore the rest of the fair.

With her in the wheelchair were Peaches and a half-dozen canvas bags stuffed with photos, artwork, specialty T-shirts and hats, and her tablet computer.

Sometime during the fair, Newton said, the canvas bag containing her tablet went missing from the wheelchair. She’s certain someone stole it, and has filed a police report.

“It had copies of my photos and art on my tablet, my health directives, my planner,” Newton said. “I’m shocked and hurt that someone did that. Every time something happens, I get back up and try again, and I’m doing that now.”

Newton’s tablet cost $329 at Walmart, a considerable investment for a woman on a small, fixed income.

“It was only a few months old, and I’m still making payments on it,” Newton said. “I can’t get another one until I pay off the one someone took.”

Cindy Carter, who created and runs The Power Crews, is a mentor to Newton, and a friend.

“My passion is to help people with disabilities start their own businesses,” Carter said. “I bring their talent to a business plan. I have two sons with disabilities, and I’ve fought dyslexia.”

“We have booths at two farmers markets in Tacoma, and in Lakewood and Fife. I’ve got five businesses represented in each booth, including Patricia, and we sell what they create.

“We have Patricia’s art and photos, birdhouses, a book one of our members wrote. Whatever our members have to sell, we make available.”

Carter pays for the booth space, and The Power Crews members pay her a small percentage of anything they sell. Everyone spends time in the booth, and Carter tries to make good use of the talents her members bring to the table.

“Tim is a photographer, so he does pet portraits,” Carter said. “Patricia does fancy lettering, and she’ll create something with each customer’s name. Diane does scrapbooking cards and shows how to create them ...”

All members of The Power Crews have challenges, Carter said.

“Patricia’s biggest challenge is her body is just beat up from all those accidents,” Carter said. “She has a caregiver who helps with bathing and all that.

“I’m trying to help them become successful and more independent.”

Carter has opened a new world to her, Newton said.

“I’m evolving,” Newton said. “Cindy helped me get a business plan, showed me things I would never have known about. I’m getting a small business loan to buy another tablet. She reins me in — I get all these ideas, and she helps me keep a tighter focus.”

Newton laughed.

“I take photos. I draw flowers with faces in them. I do fancy lettering with eyes and faces. I just finished my fifth painting. I figure my artwork will take off after I die.

“I have so many things I want to do,” she said. “If Cindy didn’t help me focus, I’d probably try to pursue them all at once and everything would suffer.”

Carter appreciates Newton’s attitude.

“She’s always willing to listen, always willing to try,” Carter said. “No one has worked with some of these folks before, and when someone cares, it opens the world for them.”

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