The team at Hollister Construction Services (Hollister), a leading full-service construction manager specializing in corporate, educational, healthcare, industrial, retail, and residential construction, aided a Westfield, N.J. family who need help with mobility for their 11-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy. The work, which included the installation of an elevator, now gives Sara Cagnassola, who uses a wheelchair, the ability to move through her three-level home independently for the first time.
The project originated in 2009, when Hollister CEO Chris Johnson learned from his friend, Thomas Cagnassola, that his daughter Sara not only had no wheelchair but that the Westfield school district would not mainstream the child without one. Without the chair, Sara would have to be bussed nearly 45 minutes away to the Mountain Lakes School District.
Mr. Johnson launched a foundation named Strides for Sara, with the initial aim of purchasing a wheelchair for Sara. This goal was met by a Hollister employee who donated a wheelchair that had been purchased by his family but never used. Once he'd secured the chair, Johnson said he was "off and running." Each year, Strides for Sara had been hosting a fundraising event with the long-term goal of installing an elevator inside the Cagnassolas' three-level home.
“It took four years of grit, determination and, most of all, love for Sara to see this project through, from getting permits and approvals, to raising donations and holding fund-raising events, to completing the construction work,” said Mr. Johnson. “All that effort came together when we saw the big smile on Sara’s face as she took her first ride on her elevator. It was a wonderful moment that reminded us of why we are committed as a company to building stronger communities by doing what we can to help those in need.”
"Sara is the fifth generation of our family to live in Westfield. My dad and grandfather are both Westfield High School graduates. This house means a lot to us. If it weren't for Chris and the Hollister Foundation we would have had to move to a ranch, I'm sure," said Thomas Cagnassola, who added that it was thrilling to watch the project come to life. "This is a fairy tale for any family with special needs. It's like something right out of one of those television shows."
This March that dream became a reality. After working with an architect and finding contractors and subcontractors who were willing to donate their time to this labor of love, the three-and-a-half story addition was complete.
Johnson explained that the project, which took a little more than five months to build, began with a ramp at the mud room level. Cagnassola said this ramp, which allows Sara the independence to go outdoors and visit with friends in the neighborhood without having to ask her mom for help, is just one of the examples of the ways the team took all of Sara's needs into consideration.
Johnson said the kitchen and bathroom areas are now ADA-complaint. In addition, an electrician has outfitted the home so that through an iPad, Sara is able to adjust light and heat settings as well as see who is at the front door.
Through his company’s charity, The Hollister Foundation, Johnson has raised more than $500,000 to promote awareness for organizations that foster children’s advancement through education and health initiatives. Johnson said he was motivated to help his friend's family because he always believed Sara should be offered the same opportunities his own children have.
"It's important to give back," said Johnson, a 2011 finalist in the Corporate Citizen of the Year category of the 2011 NJBIZ Business of the Year awards program. "But the actual gift was to us. After we finished, you felt good, like you could run through brick walls."
Cagnassola said he can't thank Johnson and his team of contractors, electricians and plumbers enough. "You've not only transformed my home but also my daughter's abilities," he said.