Sacramento, California, is the largest city in California’s Central Valley, but listening to Sonny and Jeanette Ali, founders of the Sacramento Spinal Foundation, talk about their vision for the organization, you would be forgiven for thinking they were in the heart of another famous California valley — Silicon Valley. The husband and wife team have big plans for their nascent organization and are focusing on innovation and networking to ensure their vision becomes a reality.
“We’re trying to network the SCI community with manufacturers and products that can enable them to do more in their daily lives,” explains Sonny.
“I’m trying to get in the hospitals and make inside connections,” adds Jeanette. “It all comes down to outreach awareness and fundraising to be able to give back to the SCI community.”
Like the start-up companies in the valley to the south, Sonny and Jeanette have wasted little time getting things going. Sonny sustained a T5 injury in 2015. Just about a year later, the two founded the Sacramento Spinal Foundation.
“When Sonny was in rehab there was very little information available in the hospital for newly injured people and very little awareness,” says Jeanette. “The rehab here didn’t see providing information about what comes next as a value as it would for someone with MS or who had a stroke.”
The Alis set out to fill that gap by raising awareness and connecting the members of the local SCI community with the abundance of resources around them. Among their plans are efforts to work with local hospitals to improve the discharge process by compiling better listings of appropriate caregivers and more complete listings of local accessible housing options. They are also aggressively pursuing grants from the many California corporations headquartered nearby.
The power couple is relying in part on the connections they built prior to Sonny’s accident while also working to enmesh themselves in the power structure of the state capital. Prior to his injury, Sonny received the Community Values award from the mayor of West Sacramento, and he and Jeanette ran a successful neighborhood website.
The Foundation held its first chapter meeting, focusing on wellness, earlier this summer at a local Round Table Pizza and had a good turnout. “A lot of good information was shared,” says Sonny. The next meeting is focused on independence and is scheduled for Aug. 10 at SCI-Fit Sacramento, a local SCI gym.
The Alis would like to eventually expand their offerings to adaptive sports and get the SCI community more involved in advocating at the state level, but right now Sonny says the chapter’s early success is a little overwhelming.
“It’s got a life of its own and is moving a little faster than we anticipated,” he says. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We started it based on a need, and now people are reaching out to us. The calls are coming in and the emails are coming in and the grants are coming in, and we’re just trying to keep up.”