By Rob Adams
Karl Arezzini wants what anyone would want.
He wants to play his cello, as he has done since he was five. He wants to sing, and does so in a brilliant voice that has helped give him recognition in a film shown at the Tribeca Film Festival.
He also wants freedom. That comes with a price.
Karl, the son of Lynn and David Arezzini of Greenwich, is 25 and has autism. He currently lives at Chapel Haven in New Haven. Chapel Haven’s motto, according to its website, is “A unique integration of social communication and independent living.” However, budget cuts in Hartford have put that independence in peril.
Yet there’s hope, and Karl has a team of people lining up to help, beginning with his parents. They’re both teachers in Greenwich – Lynn for 34 years and David for 35, though not all of them here.
It wouldn’t be unfair to call Lynn and David advocates, as they have actively spoken out in support of not only Karl, but all who deal with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD). To that end, Lynn is a member of CT DDS Families First, a non-profit group that supports all Connecticut citizens with I/DD.
Still Karl’s parents glow about their son, as well as their daughter Rose. Lynn gushes about Karl’s musical talent, but also knows about what she calls “the flip side of autism.”
“Karl learned how to play the cello and did extraordinary things as a child,” she said. “But he couldn’t open the case well at all, and would break cellos.”
With Gov. Dannel Malloy instituting budget cuts to social services, the Arezzini’s need more assistance to keep Karl comfortably at Chapel Haven. David says education is necessary to make the public understand what is going on.
“The first thing is education,” he said. “Educate the public so that they know not just what our family goes through, but what similar families go through in trying to get funding, especially after the age of 21, where the local education system is done. The state needs – they’re supposed to – pick up the funding for the education and the residential piece.
“They will only fund my son for his day program, which is a more of an educational piece. The residential program, we’re paying out of our pocket.”
Also on Karl’s team is Fred Camillo (R-151), who has worked with worked with state legislators to help the Arezzini’s.
“Getting to know Karl and the Arrezini family has truly been one of the highlights of my time in office,” Camillo said. “The family is as warm, upbeat, and embracing as any family you will ever meet. They are like this in spite of having had some really tough struggles, which continue today with the state funding issue. They fight on because of their love for Karl, and their belief that we in the state should be doing better by our most vulnerable.
“When someone meets Karl for the first time, two things happen: they smile, and they never forget him. He is an amazing young man…. talented, loving, and always giving back to the community through his musical talents. I will continue to work with friends and colleagues until Karl and everyone like him are independent, contributing members of society, something which will only happen when government finishes the endeavor it started.”
Next up in the lineup of Team Karl is Joe Kaliko, president of Greenwich-based The Needs Clearing House, a 501c3 organization that, per its website (theneedsclearinghouse.org), says they “matches the needs of charitable organizations with individuals, businesses and other charities willing and able (in whole or in part) to meet those needs. In this way the NCH helps charities help the needy.”
“It’s a statewide problem,” Kaliko said. “There are hundreds of people in their position. There is just no money. We’ve reached out to agencies and others.”
Kaliko added that, by making a donation to The Needs Clearing House, the funds can go directly to the Arezzini’s, and are also tax deductible. Visit their website for more information on making a donation, and, Kaliko added, be sure to put the word “Karl,” in the memo section, if donating via check.
The Needs Clearling House has been successful raising $40,000 for an ALS patient in New Canaan, according to Kaliko.
“We help wherever it is needed,” he said.
But back to Karl. Just this week, The First Bank of Greenwich has stepped up to support Karl as well. Kaliko said the bank has decided to sponsor the family and is looking into a benefit.
One can only hope that Karl will play his cello at that benefit and sing a few of his favorite tunes, including “When You Wish Upon a Star.” It’s all what made him interesting to Oscar-nominated director Nathaniel Kahn, who put Karl in his film “Lost and Found Childhood.”
“Chapel Haven is fun!” he said in a recent testimony he delivered in Hartford. “I go shopping, make meals and hang out with friends. I even take a taxi to church all by myself. I always want to live at Chapel Haven. Please help me to stay there. Thank you.”