The Leg Up Farm started as an ambitious idea that sometimes seemed like an impossible goal, but the dedication of its founder and the construction team behind him never wavered. When Louis Castriota’s daughter Brooke was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at age 1, he immediately began researching how she could get the best care possible. He discovered most treatment plans for a condition like Brooke’s, which involves both cognitive and motor function delays, do not extend past the early intervention phase. After age 3, treatment programs for children with learning disabilities and developmental delays are scarce and unaffordable for most families.
Castriota first dreamed of a physical therapy school for special needs children in 1997, and it became a 13-year labor of love.
Castriota shared his thoughts on the therapy center with his neighbor and family friend, Jim Hogg, president and CEO of Hogg Construction in York, Pa., and a member of Associated Builders and Contractors’ Keystone Chapter. Hogg knew Castriota’s project would benefit greatly from the experience and knowledge of a construction veteran, so he and his staff volunteered to help with budgeting, design and the preconstruction process. Castriota established early on that he wanted a LEED-certified building, so Hogg Construction also incorporated sustainable specifications into its design.
While the excitement felt by Castriota, his family and the contractors kept the project moving, the process for obtaining state, federal and foundation grants was painstakingly slow. In addition, Castriota had to do a considerable amount of fundraising to finance the Leg Up Farm. Hogg Construction stood by throughout the 13-year-long process, attending numerous meetings with local and state agencies, as well as board presentations, to lend its construction credibility to the project.
“We knew we weren’t wasting our time,” Hogg says. “Louis was doing the right thing for the right reason. But financing a project of this kind, which started as just an idea, is extremely difficult. Louis had the dream and the contacts; he just needed us to advise him on what it would actually take to build the structure.”
After 12 years of fundraising, designing, meetings and setbacks, the construction crew finally broke ground in August 2009. The shared mission of providing a learning center for children with disabilities motivated and unified everyone working on the project. They adopted the slogan, “It’s for the kids,” and repeated those words at every jobsite meeting.
The Leg Up Farm opened in spring 2010. The therapy center serves more than 500 children, ages 3 through 21, affected by conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and other speech and learning disorders. Through a combination of therapy, socialization and educational programs, the children attending Leg Up Farm are given the tools they need to become integral members of the community.
“There are no other treatment centers like this anywhere in the country,” Hogg says. “It’s a true testament to Louis’ creativity and his understanding of what these children and their families need.”
Adds Kevin Inch, senior project manager for Hogg Construction: “The center is run with heart. It isn’t operated like a business. The treatment they offer is personalized to each child.”
Gratified by seeing the children thrive at the center, Hogg and his staff feel as though their work with the Leg Up Farm is far from over. They anticipate working with Castriota for many years to come to further develop his vision.