Daniel Rodriguez, left, sits with his 14-year-old son, Fabrizio; his wife, Patty; and their other son, Lorenzo, 11, in their Avon home.
AVON – Lorenzo Rodriguez’s mother Patty gently lifts the 11-year-old boy from the sofa and cradles him. His father Daniel and 14-year-old brother Fabrizio smile down at him. Lorenzo smiles back, unable to do much more. His crippling disability prevents him from speaking or even moving on his own, though it has not impaired his cognitive abilities – he was named student of the year in 2010, thanks in part to an eye-gaze computer mounted on his motorized wheelchair, allowing him to communicate.
Lorenzo’s mysterious ailment has St. Ann Parish and many other concerned members of the community working feverishly to make things easier for him and his family.
"They need a handicap ramp and a few things to get the child in and out," said Father John W. McHugh, St. Ann’s pastor. The parish obtained funding from the Emergency Assistance Fund (EAF) of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal to pay for a portion of the material and labor.
"It’s one of our outreaches here in the parish," Father McHugh said. "We have 27 active ministries here in the parish, and we are very concerned about the social outreach and those who are in need, and we try to do everything we can. If we can’t do it ourselves, we refer them to an agency that can assist them, like the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, for example."
Patty and Daniel Rodriguez settled in Avon after emigrating from Peru. Daniel works in Bristol, and Fabrizio is a star soccer player at Avon High School, helping his team into the finals this past season. They seem like the typical family, even down to the two-car garage and the white picket fence.
But Lorenzo’s respiratory, digestive and musculoskeletal problems have involved the family in a decade-long odyssey throughout North and South America, looking not only for a cure, but a diagnosis. The ongoing quest has severely strained their resources.
"We’re in the process of finalizing the modifications for a new bedroom and bathroom on the first floor," Mrs. Rodriguez said. "And then we are going to need a van for his transportation from home to his doctor’s appointments. Right now, we can’t go anywhere because of the lack of transportation."
"We had a van with a lift in the back," Mr. Rodriguez added. "It was good for his older chair because it was a smaller chair and he was a little bit smaller and it could fit in there, no problem. Now he’s got a bigger chair. The van is obsolete because of the new chair."
Fabrizio’s soccer coach Patrick Mulligan heard about the family’s plight and offered to build a deck with a ramp for Lorenzo’s wheelchair, using lumber donated by Sanford and Hawley Lumber in Unionville. Assistant coach Peter O’Sullivan also pitched in, leading the high school’s National Honor Society in organizing a community fund-raising fair in May, which raised nearly $3,000.
Others helping out include the Hartford Diversity Lions Club, which sponsored a fund-raising dinner and dance in May, raising over $22,000.
The EAF is a parish-based ministry of the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal and is administered by Catholic Charities of Hartford. Its purpose is to provide financial help to any parishioner within the archdiocese who has fallen on hard times due to unemployment, illness or similar hardships.
Rose Alma Senatore, director of charities for the Archdiocese of Hartford, and former executive director of Catholic Charities, said, "This is just a unique opportunity in terms of bringing the community together to help this family that has an unusual request." She said the EAF contributed $1,500 to help pay for the deck, the ramp, the renovation of the bedroom and the new handicap van.
"The needs range from $150,000 to $200,000, so this is extraordinary. They’ve managed their finances very, very well, but this is an extraordinary expense," she said.
"They’re so tied up with taking care of this child," said Father McHugh. "It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s no break in the caregiving for that child. We all have our crosses and that’s a big one."
Donations to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal helped make a difference in this family’s life. Direct donations to the Rodriguez family’s cause may be made by sending a check, payable to CT Lions Club Charities (with "Lorenzo" in the memo line) to: Jeff Soto, 14 Santo Court, New Britain, CT 06053. To volunteer labor or materials to the construction project, contact Patrick Mulligan at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other inquiries, please contact Susan Rietano Davey at email@example.com.