GRAFTON, Mass. — The biggest handicap faced by Natasha Torres, owner of the Garden of Eden Spa in South Grafton, is helping customers to be at ease when they walk into her business for the first time and see the cosmetologist in a wheelchair.
“You don’t expect to walk in and find someone who is handicapped,” Torres said.
But overcoming obstacles is not unusual for the 31-year-old who was born with spina bifida, a debilitating spinal abnormality. When she and her family were facing eviction from their home, Community Legal Aid, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income and the elderly, helped them negotiate a loan modification with the bank. Today, Torres is raising money to help others who need free legal help.
Through the end of February, you can enter a raffle and win a facial and manicure from Garden of Eden Spa, an hourlong massage from a massage therapist, gift certificates to Annie’s Book Stop or a variety of services from Miz’Mo Hair Salon. Proceeds will go to Community Legal Aid.
Her legal troubles started in 2006. She and her mother had purchased a home in Oxford and with the help of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, made it handicap-accessible. But eight months after the purchase, her mother was laid off from work. They applied for a loan modification from the lender but were denied even after her mother found another job. Then they received notice that the house would be put up for auction.
Community Legal Aid stepped in, stopped the foreclosure auction and helped them refile with a second lender after the first mortgage lender went bankrupt, Torres said. “Over 50 percent give up and move,” she said. “But I didn’t.” Today, she is a board member of the nonprofit and an active advocate. She recently spoke at the State House on behalf of Legal Aid.
Despite those setbacks, Torres holds a business and psychology degree and is a licensed cosmetologist. She opened her salon in August after working for other spa owners since 1999. When customers walk in, they are greeted with new age music and soft lighting.
She said her family is the key to her success. They helped her to renovate her business and help to take care of her infant daughter when she is working.