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Conn. first responders gather to remodel house for boy with cerebral palsy

East Windsor first responders worked to raise funds so the house can be ADA-compliant

By Susan Danseyar
Journal Inquirer

EAST WINDSOR, Conn. — Gavin Anderson loves swimming, his two dogs, playing with his siblings, and being in gym class — just like most 10-year-old children.

But unlike his identical twin brother, Spencer, and fifth-grade classmates at East Windsor Middle School, he was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and needs help with every aspect of daily life.

To that end, the town’s first responders are leading a community effort to raise funds that will help renovate the Andersons’ home in ways that will make Gavin’s life easier.

Spastic quadriplegia is the most severe form of cerebral palsy and affects all four limbs, the trunk, and the face. “The way I explain it to children is that Gavin’s brain and body don’t talk,” said his mother, Kate Anderson. “When he tells his arm to reach for something, it moves back before it goes forward.”

She and her husband, Colin Anderson, carry their son up and down stairs in their house and get him in and out of his wheelchair. Gavin is completely non-mobile, his mother said, and unable to put his arms up or legs around his parents when they carry him. “Right now, Gavin is underweight for his age but it will become harder and harder to lift him when he gets heavier,” she said.

The family has begun renovating their home, putting on an addition with a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. It is also installing ramps from the front and back for easier access into the house. The estimated cost for the work is over $100,000, Kate Anderson said.

Her neighbor is a contractor and helped get the project started, and has arranged to have some materials donated, Anderson said. She said it’s heartwarming that the town’s police, fire and ambulance departments are coming to the rescue by organizing a pasta dinner on Sunday to raise money for the renovation project. There will be three seatings — from noon to 2 p.m., 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m. as well as takeout — at the Warehouse Point Fire Station, 89 Bridge St.

Tickets are $20 for the dinner which will include pasta, salad, meatballs, rolls, and dessert. There will be music, a raffle, T-shirts for sale, and an opportunity to see first responders and their equipment. Donations can also be made through Venmo.

The raffle prizes, food, and table settings have all been donated. “This will be at no cost to the organizers so all proceeds will go to the family,” said Jill Caron, administrative assistant for the department.

Police Chief Matthew Carl said tremendous credit goes to the staff of the Warehouse Point Fire District for organizing the first responders’ fundraiser.

“We often see people at their worst days,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be able to use public safety to improve the life of one of our families.”

Gavin accompanied his parents last week to the last organizational meeting for the event and beamed a huge smile for each first responder who walked into the room. “He’s very expressive,” Anderson said about her son. “You can immediately tell if he likes someone or not by the smile or what we call the lip — a big pout.”

When Gavin rolls into a room in his wheelchair, he assesses everyone within seconds to decide if they’re OK, she said. Her son doesn’t respond well to mascots like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus with their costumes. “He has a great sense of ‘stranger danger’ and doesn’t like men he doesn’t know who wear hats and beards,” she said.

Gavin loves bubbles, swimming in his special float, listening to music, and riding an adaptive bicycle, Anderson said. “He likes going to school and participating in any class where he can integrate with other people like gym and music,” she said. Gavin is in regular classes as well as adaptive ones.

At home, Gavin loves playing with Spencer and their older sister, 12-year-old Bailey. He adores the family’s two dogs, Aspen and Penny.

“He has a lot of ‘girlfriends,’” Anderson said with a laugh. “One (who was a teacher at his daycare center) got married, so he was a little upset and then somewhat placated by being in her wedding.”

Gavin’s “girlfriend” these days is Caitlyn Sodergren, a UConn student who is one of his personal care assistants in the house. “He generally likes older women,” Anderson said jokingly.

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