The Parker family is a picture of resilience. No strangers to hard-times, the Parkers stay upbeat in the face of numerous tragedies. Until 2017, they lived a seemingly ideal life. However, several misfortunes permanently altered the course of their lives: a house fire, a drive-by shooting resulting in paralysis, and a brain aneurysm.
Theresa Parker worked as a caretaker for the infirm. Rich Parker, the father of the family, works as the caretaker for the Hilltop Community Church, a small church in Richmond. They live in El Sobrante with their daughters Melissa and Ashley, twin 18-year-olds who recently graduated from high school.
“We were a pretty normal family,” Theresa said. “My daughters were interested in sports, Ashley played volleyball, enjoyed movies, boys, the normal things. Things were going really well for everyone until a house fire in 2017. And then Ashley was shot and paralyzed in 2019.”
After the house fire forced them from their family home in 2017, the Parker family rented a home in El Sobrante, and it was here their lives would be permanently altered. After a Pinole Valley High versus De Anza High football game, a stray bullet and a gang-related shooting would leave Ashley paralyzed from the chest down. With Theresa’s experience in care-giving she became a dedicated care-giver for her daughter, but as a result the family lost her income.
“The doctors told us to prepare for the worst, that Ashley would likely be severely brain damaged,” Rich said. “But it was like God was watching over us. They showed us a scan of the likely damaged areas, but then Ashley woke up and she’s just as witty and talkative and clever as she was before.”
Ashley does not let being paralyzed get her down. She said she feels like she has no issues adjusting to not being able to walk, and is able to laugh and joke about it with her friends. She said she has no solid memories of the evening she was shot. Ashley said she spends a lot of her time now reading and enjoying nature. She hopes to go to college to major in early childhood education.
“The easiest part of being paralyzed is honestly not being able to walk anymore,” Ashley said. “The hard part has been dealing with stuff I need help with. Because of COVID, all of the physical therapies I should have been in since being shot closed down, so while I’m pretty good at getting around my home, I’m not sure how I’ll handle being paralyzed in other settings.”
Then in April of 2020, Theresa had a brain aneurysm.
“It was probably the most terrifying moment of my life,” Richard said. “I thought I was going to lose my wife, the mother of my children, and I couldn’t even visit her in the hospital because of the COVID restrictions. I already almost lost my daughter, I didn’t know if I could have handled losing my wife.”
Shortly after recovering from her brain aneurysm, Theresa drove by a food distribution at the SVdP Conference (branch) in El Sobrante, at St. Callistus Church. Because the family was experiencing financial challenges due to the house fire and medical expenses, Theresa got in line for food and started an on-going relationship with SVdP where she has been welcomed ever since.
“I saw people handing out food, and I just got in line,” Theresa said. “I’ve been going to the St. Vincent de Paul branch at St. Callistus for food now twice a week for over a year. It’s been a big help. I met Carol Brazil, an SVdP volunteer, there, and she’s been so wonderful. Carol even packages food specially for me and helps me get it into my car, which is hard for me since my brain aneurysm. They’ve been so kind to us it’s hard not to get emotional about it.”
Ashley said she is grateful for the outpouring of generosity that the community and SVdP have shown her family.
“Our family doesn’t hold grudges or get mad about things, we’ve forgiven the guys responsible for the shooting,” Ashley said. “It’s just so moving how many people care and want to help me and my family recover from all of this. We’re really grateful for everything SVdP has provided – not just food but support and care for me and my mom.”
As the family continues to recover from their challenges and complications due to COVID, St. Vincent de Paul’s Vincentian volunteers at the SVdP branch in El Sobrante continue to be a source of support, compassion, friendship and resources for the family.