Diving In Feet First
GSIL Helps Residents Chart their Own Course
In 2008, New Hampshire native Jennifer Crowell dove off a boat in Michigan and into a change that would affect the rest of her life. The elementary school teacher, who to this day adores working with children, suffered an irrevocable spinal cord injury. While becoming a quadriplegic set “Jenny” on a path she couldn’t have predicted, she embraced it with grace and grit—with help from her family and friends, as well as Granite State Independent Living (GSIL)—to chart forward on a course she’s proud of.
Fast forward 15 years from that fateful day and you’ll find news coverage of Jenny rappelling—feet first—down the side of the 300-foot high, 24-story Brady Sullivan building in Manchester. She’s wearing GSIL leggings, donning a cotton candy pink t-shirt with all her donors’ names written on it (to go with her pink fingernails), and worrying more about others participating with her in the incredible quest rather than herself.
Through the 2023 United Way Over the Edge fundraiser, she and two other GSIL representatives joined nearly 100 brave souls to make the once-in-a-lifetime for-anyone scale down to support the worthy cause. Jenny was the first quadriplegic to participate in the event and going over feet first was symbolic to the leap of faith she’s taken every moment since the accident.
“I hope my butt looks good: these are my hot pants,” joked Jenny when she reached the building’s midway point and saw people watching from below. “I think I’m sweating and I don’t sweat. I’ve never held onto anything so tight in my entire life!”
Excited cheers, words of encouragement, and honks from passing trucks motivated Jenny to keep rappelling despite her fear. One wouldn’t have guessed that she was afraid, given her smiles, waves, and confident glances at the ground during descent.
“Over the Edge was a whole different level of trust,” she said. “It’s really not that bad when you look down.”
When you talk with Jenny she’s humble and thankful, crediting much of that courage to look down to the support and care she receives from GSIL. She and the others raised over $5,000, but their true earnings can’t be quantified by money alone—they dug deep within themselves to create a memorable experience that will last long after the final belay.
Driving Jenny to keep pushing ahead—to keep diving into everything feet first—is an uncompromising need to be free and make sure others feel the same. Her fighting spirit radiates, which is evident by the success she’s had as a GSIL peer support advocate and member of the development team. Jenny even named her beloved service dog “Journey,” a reminder to stay the course and aim high to welcome whatever comes next.
Forging the GSIL Motto: Live Life Fully and Independently
Since GSIL was founded in 1980, the non-profit has worked tirelessly to promote quality of life with independence for people with disabilities, and those experiencing the natural process of aging, through advocacy, information, education, transition and support. More than 278,255 New Hampshire adults—that’s 1 in 4 Granite Staters 18 and over—make up $3.7 billion (31%) of the state’s annual healthcare spending*.
Jenny, who has been on the receiving end of well-meaning yet pointed comments about her disability, now has a personal mission to educate the community on ways it can fuel progress.
“I never thought this would happen, but it did in the blink of an eye, so all of this is very personal,” said Jenny. “I wake up every morning knowing I need help to get my day going—prepping meals, doing laundry, getting into bed. Without GSIL, I wouldn’t be on my own, have a job, participate in adaptive sports, volunteer, and more. I wouldn’t be able to afford caregivers. I wouldn’t be able to afford life.”
As New Hampshire’s only independent living center, GSIL services 1,500+ people of all ages and disabilities to “fill the gaps” in their lives and care, and turn challenges into opportunities.
“People want to be known for who they are, not for their disability: everyone has something that happens to them,” said Jenny. “GSIL gives people safety, respect, and opportunity—really in whatever way they feel they need—to live their best life on the terms they set.”