The speakers weren’t standing at podiums, and their speeches were short and direct, but the effect was profoundly moving Jan. 30 as the Feroleto Children’s Development Center unveiled its newly renamed Raymond G. Baldwin Therapeutic Pool, Ray’s Place for short. Baldwin, who headed the center for eight years, had made the funding and construction of the pool his top priority almost from his first day.
“They asked me to come in and bring friends and family. I thought they were putting up a plaque or something,” Baldwin said. “You see something that you worked for for years, and the kids were able to be at the dedication and give speeches using their voice boxes. It’s very moving.”
The center, based in Trumbull, is a division of St. Vincent’s Special Needs that works with clients age 3-21 with significant needs, including autism, cerebral palsy, brain injury, and neuromuscular disorders. Baldwin said about 85% of the center’s clients are non-verbal and non-ambulatory.
“They have their thoughts, but unfortunately some of them are trapped in a body that doesn’t let them express themself like other people can,” Baldwin said. “To see the dedication of the staff and therapists pay off when they can start moving around because of their physical therapy, and communicating with [mechanical] voice boxes. No one who comes in and sees what we do here leaves the building untouched.”
The seeds of a $1.2 million therapy pool were first planted in 2010. Almost on Baldwin’s first day, he said.
“When I first got here, I met with the staff and the physical and occupational therapists, and I asked, “If you could have one thing that would improve the level of care, what would it be?’” Baldwin said. “Almost to a person they said a therapeutic pool.”
The center had a small whirlpool tub, but it had significant limitations. For one, anyone using the pool had to be lifted up and into it. The old pool’s size limited the work the therapist could do.
“They knew the kind of pool they needed, but there was nothing like it in Connecticut,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin and others visited the training facilities of professional sports teams, like the New York Giants and Jets. The Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in Pensacola, Fla., has two such pools and briefed the Feroleto staff on their use during a visit to the facility.
“We saw it and we knew that was what we wanted,” Baldwin said. “But there was no place to put it because it has to be built with mechanical structures underneath, so then we started looking at having to add on to the building, and that meant the pool that originally was going to cost $300,000 is now going to cost about $1.2 million. I really think a lot of people thought we would never be able to raise that much money.”
But through the generosity of the Feroleto family and the fund-raising contacts of former St. Vincent’s Foundation President Ron Bianchi, the donations came in, Baldwin said. By mid-2014 the pool was installed and functioning. And the results were better than they had hoped, Baldwin said.
“It was a godsend,” Baldwin said.
In addition to its size, the new pool allowed staff to pre-position clients and equipment. The pool’s movable floor, which doubles as a treadmill, can be adjusted to any height up to six feet. Water jets provide resistance for clients able to use the submerged treadmill. And even though Feroleto clients will never be NFL-caliber athletes, Baldwin said the transformation among some of them has been remarkable.
“One of our clients, Priscilla, got there about the same time I did, and she was non-verbal, and couldn’t walk,” Baldwin said. “Eight years later, she’s a teenager, walks all over the place and can communicate. It’s like seeing a miracle take place.”