The desire to help people with disabilities and special challenges is a noble endeavor. It is one that most people wish they would do more. Active involvement takes time and effort, so imagine the dedication of an individual who has been actively involved in helping children with autism for 80 percent of his life and is not yet 16-years old!
Such is the case of Sal Ferruggia, who began ‘partnering’ with his grandfather, also Sal Ferruggia, when he was only three years old. The story actually began in 1965, when the elder Sal was teaching a Special Education class in the Newark School System. He was so taken by his experience with one of his students that it left a lasting impression and as Sal’s teaching career progressed, he developed a strong affinity with those afflicted with autism.
So devoted to the cause was Sal that he decided to see if his young grandson would also wish to be involved. One is never too young to learn to give back to the community, so when little Sal was three, his grandfather suggested that the two become partners in a project they refer to as “God Bless Children with Autism.” Together, they have built over 200 birdhouses which have been donated to children with the condition and to autism schools.
The two partners have primarily focused their projects within New Jersey, but have donated birdhouses to those in Minnesota, Florida and as far away as California. Little Sal has donated and dedicated birdhouses to Governor Chris Christie, Joanne Cody, Anthony Fasano and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who has been a long-time and staunch supporter of the grandfather/grandson partnership. In fact, a number of years ago, the two received official recognition from Essex County for their devotion to special needs children.
One of the Ferruggia bird houses proudly hangs in Verona Park in New Jersey which is dedicated to autism. Another is at Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, which has led to many people reaching out to the Ferruggias, due to the beauty, visibility and heart-warming cause that their projects encompasses. Each birdhouse includes the following quote:
“We want everyone to know that EVERY SINGLE CHILD in THE WHOLE WORLD has a SPECIAL GIFT and TALENT including you that received our birdhouse. We love doing these nice things for you and we wish you the best in everything you do. Remember, always try your best and ALWAYS listen to and obey your parents and teachers.
With MUCH LOVE, Sal & Sal, Partners”
The Italian Tribune applauds the efforts of the Ferruggias and wishes to express our gratitude to Walter Afflitto, Principal of Newark Public Schools (retired) for bringing this inspirational story to our attention.
Captions (photo numbers marked on reverse)
12 – Little Sal in Verona Park preparing the base for the birdhouse built with his partner, grandfather Sal Ferruggia.
9 – The birdhouse in Turtle Back Zoo.
1 – The plaque on the birdhouse at West Orange’s Turtle Back Zoo.
7 – Little Sal presenting Verona High School football legend and former NFL tight end, Anthony Fasano with a birdhouse in 2017.