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Zach and Reilly Stewart of Madison make use of the new picnic tables installed by Reilly Stewart as his eagle scout project and which now offer ADA-accessible outdoor seating at the ACES Center for Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders. (Photo courtesy of ACES )
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In early 2018, 17-year-old Reilly Stewart, a rising senior at Daniel Hand High School, 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 Stewart 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 Stewart 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,” Riley Stewart said. “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 life and I wanted to give something back for what the organization has done for our family.”
Zach Stewart, 20, has autism spectrum disorder. Since moving with his family in 2010 from Lenexa, Kansas to Connecticut, Stewart 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.
Riley Stewart spoke with SAILS Principal Leslie Peters about his proposal.
“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 Stewart began planning, budgeting, and raising funds to finance the project. He approached retailers Walmart, Stop & Shop, and Roberts Food Center 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,” Stewart said. “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, Stewart 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. 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.”
For more information about ACES, visit www.aces.org.
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