Imagine finding yourself in need of an extended term of medical care and possibly even in a wheelchair. Imagine a place not unlike a hospital yet with more freedom and yet with nothing to do. Imagine having people all around yet wanting to do something, anything, to relax and enjoy the world around you and yet have nothing to enjoy.
When Carmine and Wendy Colantuono placed her father, Haskell Stewart, in the Mary Gran Nursing home they knew that they had made a very good choice in getting the quality of care that he needed. Knowing he would be there for the rest of his life, they wanted a great place for him to go. But after a while they noticed something about him had changed. It was like a piece of a puzzle that was missing. He didn’t want to get out of bed and didn’t want to participate in any activities.
When he came home for a few hours on a holiday the missing piece of the puzzle fell into place. Stewart made a beeline for the Koi pond in the Colantuono’s backyard and sat for over an hour, mesmerized by the graceful Koi swimming in the crystal clear water.
Koi are an extremely colorful crossbred fish that have been raised and refined by Japanese enthusiasts over hundreds of years. They can live over a hundred years and grow to lengths of nearly three feet.
The sound of the waterfalls in their pond and the movement of the fish were relaxing him. When the Colantuonos returned Stewart to Mary Gran, he stated how much he had enjoyed the pond. On subsequent visits, the Colantuonos looked at the spaces in the nursing home that he could go to and noticed that, short of staring at the shrubbery in the enclosed garden area, there wasn’t anything like the Koi pond for him to enjoy.
There are a variety of activities for the residents but these are usually scheduled and there is plenty of down time. Carmine Colantuono began to get an idea for a Koi pond in an area just off the dining hall and played with it for over a year. He finally put some drawings together and took his ideas to Neil Ivey, the administrator for Mary Gran.
Mr. Ivey was very open to the idea and liked what it could do for the residents,” Colantuono says, “but it wasn’t something they could justify spending money on. But I assured him from the beginning I would do the project and raise the funds to do it myself.”
Colantuono is a firefighter for the city of Fayetteville and he and his wife both volunteer at Roseboro Rescue as members of the Sampson County Rescue and Recovery Dive Team and also at Vann Crossroads as firemedics.
“I was told early in my career if you want to make a bunch of money don’t become a firefighter and that is pretty much true,” he says, “so I need to raise the money to do this somehow.”
Colantuono says he has spent over 100 hours of his off time designing the project and talking to engineers and architects to get advice and ideas. He notes that he expects to have another 300 by the time the fish are swimming. The pond will be constructed of block, concrete, and stone with approximately four feet of water depth. One foot of water will be below ground level and three feet aboveground with another foot of wall above water level for safety. Safety was the first consideration.
“The key component here,” he says, “is the acrylic panels that will be built into the side of the pond. The panels will give the viewer a 7 foot by 3 foot window to look into the pond. For a person in a wheelchair these are the key to them getting to see the fish as they move about without having to look over the top edge.” The panels are manufactured in Wilmington by a company who does this for public aquariums around the nation. The other component that Carmine feels will be enjoyable to the visitors to the pond will be the waterfall feature. The 7,000 gallon pond will have a short series of step down falls that will create a soothing sound.
Colantuono proposed to Ivey locating the pond in an enclosed area that all mobile residents had access to without escorts. “There is a security system on site to keep some residents inside the building. If certain residents get too close to an exit a sensor they wear locks that exit to prevent them getting hurt if they went out. Couple that with the front door being a long way out from some rooms and the inside area becomes ideal because it is nearly in the center of the facility” said Carmine. “There are three points of access to the inside area and two automatic doors so the area is very wheelchair friendly. It is in the fresh air but surrounded by the building. The pond will be a huge hit with the residents.” In fact it already is. Word got out when the Colantuonos put the architectural drawings on the wall in Mr. Stewarts room to boost his spirits and the residents are asking about the pond every time they go to visit him. “They are very excited” Mrs. Colantuono says.
Hoping to begin construction in late April, the Colantuonos have begun to raise the money for the project which should run between $15,000 and $20,000, if everything is bought at retail. “I have already begun talking to companies that have what we need to build it and most are willing to help somewhat but there will still be a huge cash outlay.”Colantuono says that “I want to give anyone who wants to donate a chance. I am hoping the larger corporations in the area will step up and help. This isn’t going to benefit any one person alone – this is for anyone who is in Mary Gran now or may be for many years to come.” Wendy adds, “Some folks are only here for short stretches of time for rehabilitation and then go home but others will live out their lives here. When their families come to visit, it will be a nice oasis for them to enjoy time together.” Once it is built, Carmine’s plan is to add the Koi and some small minnows, called Gambusia, or Mosquito fish. These fish feed on mosquito larvae as they hatch and would keep mosquito annoyance to the levels it is currently and maybe even less. “This is a project that will be an enjoyable area for anyone who wanders outside to sit and relax - not just the residents, but their families and the staff too.” Carmine has been working on this for over a year and says he is getting excited about the prospect of building it this year. “I am really looking forward to getting the first shovel in the ground. I know dad will be thrilled to sit outside and Wendy and I will be right there with him. The good Lord willing it is finally going to happen.”
If anyone would like to donate or inquire about the project they can contact Carmine at email@example.com. Checks can be sent to Mary Gran Pond Project 1237 Merkle Road Clinton NC 28328.