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Disabled man who helps others in need himself

Andy Leaf ran into Redondo Beach's wide sand beach on a warm St. Patrick's Day morning thinking only of the beauty around him.

The then-18-year-old had just cut biology class at USC with a friend and was eager to immerse himself in the water.

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But when he dove into a wave, he instantly knew something had gone wrong.

Below the deceiving look of thick, crashing waves was a sandbar, and Leaf had hit it.

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"I could hear my neck snap," Leaf recalled more than 50 years later at his South Laguna Beach home.

The bodysurfing accident left him a quadriplegic, but his physical limitations didn't stop him from obtaining a bachelor of science degree in social ecology from UC Irvine and a master's degree in counseling psychology from Pepperdine University.

Nor did it dissuade him when he wanted to start a nonprofit aimed at helping disabled people start their own businesses.

The road was tough though.

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In 1995, he and colleague Julie Damon, who is legally blind, created Seed Institute of Southern California, an organization that provided resources and small-business services to people with disabilities. For seven years, Leaf collaborated with clients, helping them as they developed their small enterprises.

But the money to keep the institution going started running dry in the early 2000s, and it folded in 2003. The vision and commitment Leaf had was still there, so in 2004, he tried a new approach and launched SEED Business Network, which helped entrepreneurs with disabilities find reliable business resources and support through the website DisabilityBiz.org.

"I've always been a helping person," said Leaf, whose father ran his own business. "I had the entrepreneurial background and this just seemed natural."

But Leaf, who will be 70 in June, has been experiencing new obstacles lately.

He contracted pneumonia five years ago, underwent a tracheotomy that put him on a ventilator full-time and is no longer is mobile, relying on full-time caregivers.

One of those caregivers, Casey Simpson, depends on the use of Leaf's car to help him help others, but that car died two weeks ago.

The once trusty Acura came from Laguna Beach resident Ann Shea, who donated the vehicle two years ago after her mutual friend Barbara McMurray told her Leaf needed a car.

"At first you're overwhelmed by his situation, but after you hear him speak, you learn more about his humanity and his resilience," Shea said. "He's an inspiration to all people."

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Leaf and Simpson have been looking online for a replacement car, but the prices on most used vehicles are still too high.

Simpson, who lives with Leaf, used to be able to drive to pick up Leaf's medications, run errands and gather business supplies for the nonprofit.

For the past weeks, Simpson has been walking. Sometimes he'll take the bus but finds that the timing isn't always right when he's caring for Leaf.

To take care of the necessities of running his nonprofit and for his own health, Leaf created a fundraising page on crowd-funding website Indiegogo. The title is Immediate Need-Vehicle for Disabled Non-Profit. He and Simpson currently have a little over $3,000 and hope to raise $12,500 to purchase reliable transportation.

The fundraising campaign ends May 31.

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