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A Brother’s Love Results in a Project That Benefits Everyone at ACES Center for Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders

July 18th, 2019

(North Haven, CT – July 18, 2019) Brothers have special relationships. And then there’s Reilly and Zach Stewart. Seventeen-year-old Reilly is a driven young man who sets goals and then figures out how to achieve them. In early 2018, he set his sights on becoming an Eagle Scout, which entails completing a long list of tasks and achievements culminating in a philanthropic project that is designed to help his community in some way. As he accompanied his older brother Zach to the ACES Center for Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders (CASDD), which houses the ACES Science-based Approaches to Independence and Life Skills or SAILS program, Reilly had an epiphany.

“I noticed when we dropped Zach off for his programmed learning that the picnic tables were old and in bad shape and there really wasn’t a good place for the learners to sit and enjoy the campus outside,” said the younger Stewart. “That’s when it hit me that designing and constructing an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) approved sitting area would be the perfect project to help the school that really helped Zach. The inspiration for the project is my brother. He is a major part of my life. I really didn’t understand everything about him when I was younger but I am fascinated by who he is and have a strong desire to help him. ACES has made major changes in his quality of life and I wanted to give something back for what the organization has done for our family.”

Zach is twenty years old and has autism spectrum disorder. Since moving with his family in 2010 from Lenexa, Kansas to Connecticut, Zach has been in the ACES system for almost a decade. He enrolled in the ACES Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) program at ACES Village School in October 2010. In 2011, he transitioned over to the SAILS program and will graduate at the end of the 2020 school year. The program is designed for students who require highly specialized systematic instruction under the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Typically, students in this program have a diagnosis of Autism (with some co-morbid diagnoses as well at times). The younger Stewart immediately set off on making his vision a reality. He followed the correct channels by talking to the SAILS principal Leslie Peters and told what he wanted to do. He explained that it would not only benefit Zach but everyone at CASDD. Peters was very familiar with the Stewarts.

“How could I say no to him? I was a speech pathologist here in 2012 and Zach was one of my first students. He is one of the friendliest kids I know and I felt that Reilly would make the seating area great,” said Peters. “So we worked with the ACES head of facilities and mapped out the parameters of the project and then Reilly went into action.”

This spring, Reilly began planning, budgeting, and raising funds to finance the project. He approached retailers Walmart, Stop ‘N Shop, and Roberts for permission to sell baked goods outside the stores to raise money. After three days, Stewart had raised more than $2,800 but after consultation with several local contractors and businessmen soon found out that it wouldn’t be enough. That’s when the community rallied around the brothers.

“I approached the local Tilcon Connecticut facility and they helped us determine what we needed and improved the design,” said the senior at Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Connecticut. “After that, they donated 23 metric tons of ¾ inch processed stone and delivered it free. They were fantastic.”

Besides Tilcon, Grainger provided two 12-foot ADA compliant all-weather picnic tables below cost that the scouts put together. These specially made tables extend outward more than traditional tables so those in a wheelchair can easily sit at them. Home Depot provided a deep discount on all the remaining building materials. Over this year’s spring break, Reilly and a group of other scouts began constructing the seating area around the facilities’ prominent flagpole. Stewart didn’t have any organized training but learned many of the construction basics helping other would-be Eagle scouts on projects in past years. What he didn’t know, he simply figured out on his own. In less than a week, the new area was complete.

“We had no idea it would come out like this. If you didn’t know the back story, you would guess that a major landscaping company did the work,” said Peters. “We were shocked that this was completed so fast but all of us are thrilled that Reilly wanted to do something for Zach’s school.”

The job isn’t complete though. Reilly is in the final stages of finally becoming an Eagle Scout. He is now off to a rugged scout ranch to complete the other certification requirements required to be an Eagle Scout. The crown jewel of the accomplishment, however, is not a merit badge but a tribute to his brother. The seating area proudly sits in the sun for those who want to enjoy the sun and comfort at CASDD located at 26 Old Post Road in Northford, Connecticut. Zach now is one of the dozens of students in the SAILS program that enjoy the new area daily. No one really knows if Zach’s big smile is because he loves the new area or that his little brother did it for him.

About ACES:

Area Cooperative Educational Service’s (ACES) is to transform lives through education, innovation, and leadership. One of six Connecticut regional educational service centers, ACES is the regional educational services center for the twenty-five communities in New Haven and is both a school district and a non-profit services agency. ACES serves 2,300 students from fifty-seven communities throughout Connecticut at its three magnet schools and nine special education schools. ACES service divisions include international educational programs and services, technology, transportation, translation, behavior services and autism programs, extension therapy services (occupational and physical therapy), assistive technology, collaborative programs, professional development, human resources and financial services, and ACCESS, a vocational and life skills program for developmentally and physically challenged adults. ACES also runs the Open Choice program for New Haven County as well as a magnet school parent choice program for its Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School and Thomas Edison Middle School. Additionally, ACES runs the Middlesex County Early Head Start Partnership program. For additional information, go to www.aces.org.

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