By Josh Garvey
On a beautiful Friday afternoon, 33 Uconn Engineering students worked under a warm sun to help paint a replica of a Major League Baseball stadium that fits in a back yard, to fulfill the wish of a 10 year old Red Sox fan who is facing a difficult genetic disorder. A week later, a few of those students came to see the finished product in a packed celebration.
The engineering students came to Windsor, Conn. on Oct. 15 to support Make-A-Wish Connecticut’s efforts to build a Fenway Stadium replica, called Fantasy Fenway, for Thomas Hastings. Thomas is diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative muscle wasting disease.
“We’ve had a lot of people contribute to this locally. People who know us, who are nearby, who want to help. It’s just as impressive, if not more impressive, when it’s total strangers working to help us, who don’t even know Thomas but still know how important this is for him,” said Brad Hastings, Thomas’ father, when asked about the engineering team’s contribution to the stadium.
Make-A-Wish Connecticut has worked with the Red Sox and local contractors to make Fantasy Fenway as accurate as possible. The outfield sod comes from Tuckahoe Turf Farms in New Jersey, the same farm where the grass for full-sized Fenway is grown. The tiny stadium features a 16-feet tall Green Monster replica, with a wheelchair accessible ramp. The whole park, including the ball diamond, is designed to be accessible for Thomas whether he’s walking or confined to his wheelchair, which can vary from moment to moment.
UConn Engineering students were brought onto the project thanks to Jura Zibas, a Make-A-Wish board member who connected UConn Engineering with the project. Haley Palmer (’19, CEE), the Engineering Student Leadership Council President, organized the volunteer trip. She said the experience has been very rewarding.
“I haven’t been able to meet Thomas before [the painting trip]. Being able to meet him and give him and his sister the shirts for the School of Engineering were really great opportunities. I could definitely see on his face the difference we were making and how positively he reacted made me feel like it was all worth it. I hope the other students that were involved can feel it to,” she said.
A week later, Palmer and some of the other UConn Engineering volunteers drove themselves to the Hastings’ home, to celebrate Fantasy Fenway’s official opening. They were joined by a crowd of over two hundred for the Oct. 22 celebration. In rain that varied from a light drizzle to a heavy downpour engineering students and other volunteers celebrated with Thomas and watched as the University of Hartford’s baseball team played a Wiffle ball double header.
UConn Engineering and Make-A-Wish Connecticut are currently discussing a second project for engineering students to help complete. For more pictures from the two days, please click here to visit our gallery.