By Carolyn Marnon – What do pizza and Taft-Galloway Elementary School in Wayne have in common? They both have the attention of Fredi the Pizzaman, a Melvindale businessman whose “Fredi the Pizzaman Foundation” recently funded some special classroom equipment.
Taft-Galloway Elementary School was assigned two classrooms this year for children in the Wayne Westland School District who are autistic. There is a Kindergarten to 2nd grade classroom and a 3rd-5th grade classroom. Nancy Kelly has been an Occupational Therapist with the school district for 22 years. She thought there needed to be more support for these children, but she was told the district did not have any funds for that support. Nancy got on the computer and made a request on Donors Choose, a website that helps teachers receive items for classroom projects from generous donors throughout the country.
Last November, Nancy requested help with a sensory room to give students the opportunity to have sensory experiences. She wrote, “The mission at our elementary school is to create an engaging and safe school that inspires growth and learning for all. The 2019-20 school year included the addition of two new classrooms for students with autism at our school.”
“The students have brought a new dimension of challenge and joy to our school. Students with autism typically have a unique learning style with their sensory motor needs, processing and communication difficulties. This group has been met by the school community with open arms. Our students with autism have their own special classrooms as a home base. They are also mainstreamed as often as possible into the general education classrooms where teachers and students alike welcome them into the classroom family.”
She went on to write, “A sensory room will be a great calming and exploratory area for our elementary students. Our new students with autism require extra sensory activity during the day to develop their ability to process the many sensory stimuli they experience on a daily basis. These include tactile (touch of different textures), visual (calming lighting and patterns), auditory (relaxing sounds), vestibular (gentle movement), and proprioceptive input (use of big muscles with resistance). Research in the area of autism and other sensory processing disorders has shown by providing the extra sensory inputs, students can organize and regulate their sensory systems, helping them to feel safer and less anxious.”
Taft’s Parent Coordinator Sarah Lewis had heard of Fredi’s foundation through social media. She contacted Fredi to see if his foundation would be able to help equip a former storage space at the school. “I’ll come out tomorrow,” he is quoted as saying. By December, the equipment was being ordered thanks to the generosity of several Donors Choose donors and $1149.17 from Fredi the Pizzaman Foundation.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on January 23 outside the new ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) classroom at the end of a long hallway at the elementary school. Leading up to the door was a multi-color liquid encased floor playmat. The colored liquid danced across the tile as attendees walked down it into the classroom where student Daniel enthusiastically ran from item to item to show how each worked. The classroom included a swing with a large round seat that resembled a papasan chair, a bean bag chair, a hippity-hop ball to jump with, a large exercise ball, a mini trampoline, a small rocking chair, and a “crash pad” (a 5-ft square blue velour landing pad filled with foam blocks.)
Fredi Bello was presented with a folder that included photos of children using the new sensory equipment and thank you cards written by each of the students. He also received a Certificate of Appreciation from Taft Principal Brandon Cox.
ASD Teacher Amy Kinnelly, who has been with the district for 11 years, said the swing and the crash pad have been the favorites since the special classroom opened last month. In the past, autistic students who needed a “break” from the school day would put on a weighted backpack or exercise in the hallway. Now they have a specialized space to take that break to help them prepare to re-enter the classroom.
Amy and Nancy say Fredi has “been a very nice man in the community because he supports the public schools.”
Fredi Bello works 70 hours per week making his own pizza at his small 4-table pizzeria in Melvindale (about a 25-minute drive from Wayne). When he’s not working at his restaurant, he’s working on his foundation, spreading the word about autism awareness.
Fredi and his wife have 3 children-ages 9, 7 and 6. His middle child, Antonio, was diagnosed with autism. The Fredi the Pizzaman Foundation was established to help spread autism awareness and raise money to equip Michigan classrooms with sensory equipment that aids in calming children with autism. His foundation has already donated funds and sensory equipment to 15 schools in Michigan, most of those in Metro Detroit.
Fredi’s foundation recently received a $10,000 donation from the DTE Foundation. Fredi also holds fundraisers. He will be holding his 5th Annual Golf Outing on August 1, 2020. He will be holding a Walk and Bowling for Autism event on April 26.
When he started the foundation, Fredi said he had no plan. “My biggest fear is running out of money.” He went on to say “These rooms mean everything to me. It’s not about my boy. I understand what the parents are going through. I just try to share my story.”
The next item on Nancy Kelly’s wish list for the sensory room is a steam roller, a piece of equipment with rollers that provide deep pressure while the student crawls through it. Southpaw, a company that makes sensory integration products, is currently selling the Steam Roller Deluxe for $550. With additional replacement bands, Nancy says they will need $600 before it can be purchased.