Open to Care
Growing up in Savannah's black community was a multilayered experience for Janice Hunter Malafronte. Her happy childhood days were spent playing with siblings and cousins from a large multicultural family-Janice's dad was German/Irish/African/West Indian, while her mom was English/Welsh/African-and she especially loved being around her grandparents, who lived on the river near Isle of Hope. The kids would go swimming and crabbing while Janice's grandfather fished and made nets; Janice relished the ways of what she calls "the Geechee lifestyle."
On the other hand, segregation was still a reality and as she grew older, Janice began to feel the weight of limitation. She'd read widely and traveled to New York in the summers-she knew that the way things were in Savannah was not the norm everywhere. For as much as Janice loved her community, she knew she couldn't stay. "When I was growing up, men were still being lynched," said Janice. "Certain things weren't said; you just had to understand what you couldn't do. And it was always about what you could not do. I'm a creative person and a free spirit, so I needed to operate from a place where you can."
At age 17, she went to live with her brother in California and quickly found herself adapting to the laid-back, freethinking lifestyle (it was the early 1960's, after all.) She did a lot of art and pottery, studied theatre and dance, investigated world religions, quieted her mind through meditation, took classes with the likes of Joan Baez, cultivated friendships with people of all different races, and even quit wearing a bra for a while. Eventually, she became a registered nurse, married and had a child.
The next chapter of life found Janice moving to Tennessee with a group of like-minded people-mostly Californians and New Yorkers-who were trying to "get away from it all." They created their own town in the mountains, complete with restaurants, farms, one of the first soy dairies in the country, and a clinic which Janice helped set up. In this 5,000-acre community, which Janice compares to Sea Pines in terms of its selfcontainment, everything was done locally so that very little money changed hands. Janice was a vegan at the time, and often walked up to ten miles a day.
After three winters, her grandfather became ill and it was time to come home. The year was 1975 and, though Savannah had changed considerably, it still gave her all the "old feelings," so she decided to live on Hilton Head. She took care of her grandfather, then her father, and now her mother; soon her talent for caretaking had blossomed into a business, Companions, Nurses and Nannies, which Janice has run since 1979.
"Sometimes I think that we can have everything available to us and do nothing," said Janice, who attributes her caring spirit to a strong family upbringing. "But there's so much to do! We've gotten used to paying for everything [to be done for us], but we've got a lot of time on our hands and a lot of talents. It's important to get involved because we have so much to offer."