In seeming disregard for the gray skies above, a small crowd of people moved busily in and out of Rachelle Hardie's Liberty Street home on Sunday, preparing for her return the following day.
The career trauma room nurse and mother of two Petaluma teens had been gone since Oct. 11, when a disc in her upper back unexpectedly ruptured and left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Hardie is doing well, according to friends and family, but will require a wheelchair to get around. Despite the massive change in lifestyle that she's facing, insurance dictated that she return home by mid-November.
Hearing this, the active, well-loved woman's friends, neighbors, and colleagues — aided by community members who didn't even know her — raced to complete a renovation that would enable her to be independent.
Many likened it to a homespun version of the television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
"I've always watched that show and called it BS," said Daria Pavliger, a close friend of Hardie and a whirlwind of energy on Sunday. "What, you can get all that done in a week? Maybe with a crew of a thousand."
But as she looked around on Sunday, she acknowledged that it just might be possible with enough willing volunteers and a good director.
So it was that as volunteers busily painted doors, laid bricks and moved items about the house on Sunday, a car pulled up beside the piles of mulch and debris lining the sidewalk.
A young woman stepped out, looking a bit overwhelmed by the flurry of activity. Hardie's ex-husband, Andrew Thomas, walked over to say hello. She told him that she worked with Hardie in San Francisco and she'd come to help out.
Almost before Thomas had a chance to respond, another volunteer called out from the front steps, "I've got a job for you!"
Such scenes were typical over the last few weeks, as more than 50 people convened on Hardie's home from Petaluma and the Bay Area.
Thomas acknowledged that at first he couldn't have imagined such an undertaking coming together.
"The first week was despair," he said, remembering how he had been struck by the grim reality of the situation. Being so close to what was happening, the career firefighter found himself unable to form a plan.
Then, three teens who knew Rachelle's teenage daughter had the idea for a treat stand to raise money. That money, they thought, could go toward building a ramp to the house or buying needed equipment.
In late October, using Facebook to advertise their homemade delicacies, Jackie Buzard,17, Dorothy Buzard, 15, and Kennedy Kreger, 14, raised nearly $1,800 within a few days with help from the Buzards' mother, Patty, and others. That started what Thomas described as "a groundswell."
Soon, local companies like Ohana Construction and Rex Ace Hardware were offering to donate supplies and services; Pavliger began applying her design school skills to the renovations; and Hardie's nursing colleagues in San Francisco started a website to fundraise and coordinate help.
As work commenced on a ramp leading from the sidewalk to the house, friends began to see additional opportunities to help: Mulching the front yard; painting the walls; organizing everything for simplicity and accessibility; even decorating the teens' bedrooms so they had something nice to return to as well.