Fire ‘buddies’ helping build pool deck for Schaumburg girl with cerebral palsy

Schaumburg firefighters are continuing their friendship with a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and epilepsy by helping build a deck for the beloved swimming pool she recently received through Make-A-Wish.

Kelly Boscardin said her daughter Savanah, though nonverbal, has been delighted by the firefighters since even before she was selected for the Project Fire Buddies chapter served by the local union.

“I’m so happy,” Boscardin said. “I would never have met the firefighters if it had not been for Make-A-Wish.”

It was through that well-known program that the firefighters came out to fill up the pool last month, a favor they don’t typically provide residents.

That was when Firefighter Sarie Turner brought up the Project Fire Buddies program serving children with disabilities or illnesses. One of its key requirements is the family in need must actively apply for it.

Seven-year-old Savanah with one of her Schaumburg Fire Buddies, Mike Newkirk. Courtesy of Sarie Turner

Turner said the union’s involvement was so recent that it was working with only one other child and still trying to get the word out in the community.

Savanah has since made a memorable visit to the fire station. But her Fire Buddies will really get a chance to help her out over the next few days assisting a volunteer contractor build a deck for her pool.

Though Make-A-Wish also provided a lift chair to help Savanah in and out of the pool, it will be much more effective with a deck around it, said Gonzo Campos, owner of Executive Remodel & Construction in Schaumburg.

  Kelly Boscardin and her daughter Savanah, 7, pose at the site of their new pool in their Schaumburg backyard with family friend Josie Rossi, 12, right. John Starks/

Turner said she was surprised Savanah would be gifted a pool not fully handicapped-accessible, but she felt inspired to help the contractor already volunteering to make it so.

Turner has even gotten a few Schaumburg police officers to join the deck-construction effort.

Campos said the approximately 11 first responders he’s expecting should take about a day off the time his own crew of three would have needed to do all the work alone.

This will be a gift deeply, deeply appreciated by a little girl who’s always found joy in swimming, Boscardin said.

“I have pictures of her as a baby smiling in the pool,” she added. “She’s always just loved the pool.”

Kelly Boscardin's new pool is filled by Schaumburg firefighters as part of her 7-year-old daughter Savanah’s Make-A-Wish gift. Courtesy of Kelly Boscardin

When hearing the list of things she might ask from Make-A-Wish, the option of a swimming pool caused Savanah to instantly light up and begin frantically signing the word “Yes!” with her hands.

In addition to the deck that’s coming, Boscardin is also awaiting a pool heater that should not only extend the months of use each year but prevent the cold water that might trigger an epileptic seizure.

Last year was a particularly rough one for the seizures that can be caused by sensory issues and other factors, but the situation has greatly improved, Boscardin said.

“It’s been over a year since she had a seizure,” she said. “It’s been a slice of heaven.”

  Seven-year-old Savanah laughs with friend Josie Rossi, 12, Wednesday in her Schaumburg yard. Firefighters and volunteer contractors will build a deck for the swimming pool later this week. Josie wants to be a physical therapist and spends a great deal of time helping Savanah and her mother Kelly Boscardin. John Starks/

For the most part, though, Savanah’s life is both busy and fun, her mother said.

“Her life is a lot of therapy with a lot of love,” Boscardin said.

Buffalo Grove Firefighter Mike Manka is the territory manager of Project Fire Buddies for the region that includes Schaumburg. He said growth of the program that began in Oak Forest in 2016 is accelerating, now up to about 100 chapters across several states.

“Our first focus is on the children,” he said. “To make them feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves.”

Seven-year-old Savanah poses with some of her Schaumburg Fire Buddies. Courtesy of Kelly Boscardin

Each child accepted up to the age of 18 receives visits about four to six times a year. The program is meant to provide a support system for the entire family, including siblings, Manka said.

If a child overcomes an illness, he or she remains in the program for another year and is automatically reinstated if the illness returns.

Program officials partner with schools, doctors, dentists, social workers and social media to provide community outreach. There are also local and regional events like the food truck festival in Buffalo Grove and the big Labor of Love fundraiser in Merrionette Park that are both happening Saturday, July 20, Manka said.

“The biggest hurdle is making sure that a chapter establishes awareness,” he added.

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