Walter Camp All-Americans visit Feroleto Center; Tough guys show soft hearts
World-class athletes and children for whom just moving is a daily struggle rubbed elbows last week as four members of the Walter Camp All-American college football team visited the St. Vincent Special Needs Feroleto Center. The center provides services for children with varying degrees of developmental problems, including some who are non-verbal and non-ambulatory.
Feroleto CEO Raymond Baldwin told the football players about the center and how much their visit meant to the staff and children.
"They really look forward to your visit every year. It means so much to them," he said. "You may be tempted to feel sorry for our kids, but don't. They have a great staff and they're thrilled that you came."
After a few minutes, the players began to feel comfortable in their interactions with the Feroleto clients. Taylor Lewan, a 6' 8" 310-pound junior from Michigan, began offering fashion advice.
"That's a great scarf," he told one client as he handed her a signed football. "You know what would go great with that? A football."
Lewan is considered the best in the country at his position, where his primary responsibility is protecting the quarterback. He joked about his position as staff and other visitors struggled to move past him in the close confines of a classroom.
"I block things," he said. "It's what I do."
The biggest surprise of the visit came when California (Penn.) senior Rontez Miles revealed his knowledge of sign language after Feroleto client Claire Kenny presented a short slide show on her tablet computer.
"How did she do that?" Miles asked. Told that she communicated with the staff in sign, Miles dropped to one knee.
"Thank you very much," he signed. "I loved your pictures."
Miles said he had learned to sign when he was in third grade.
"I went to a school next door to a school for the deaf," he said. "I just picked some of it up from the other kids."
State Rep. Tony Hwang, R-134th District, said the visit was a chance for the All-Americans to interact with those who did not have their physical talents.
"These guys exist in a world where everyone is an athlete of the highest caliber, and here they are spending time with kids who deal with daily struggles," he said. "That they gave some of their time speaks to the quality of person they are, and I hope they carry with them the care and the empathy that we need so much nowadays."
Feroleto spokesman Deborah Cox said she, too, hoped the players would not soon forget the few minutes they spent at the center.
"When you're playing pro football and maybe making millions of dollars, don't forget about this place and how much your visits mean to the clients and staff," she said.