Santa made a special delivery of a baby grand piano to a 9-year-old boy with autism, but in this case the elves didn’t do the building: it was the kindness of strangers that made it all come together.
“It’s unbelievable. I always called Alexander a miracle, but this is a Christmas miracle,” said his mom, Tori-Anne Dauria said. “He’s been telling everyone this is all he wanted for Christmas was a grand piano and everyone tried to tell him it’s not possible, but he’d say, ‘Why not, I’m on the good list.”
It’s true that even those on the good list often don’t get big items that they want, but Alex Stamboulidis had a rough start and struggles today on the autism spectrum and with physical and motor planning issues.
He was born more than three months premature with a grade four brain bleed, his mom said, and weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces.
Miracle No. 1 was that he survived.
What many are calling miracle No. 2 is that a visit with a “Sensitive” Santa at ASD Fitness in Orange last week led to Alex having his wish come true.
Even if it’s not quite a miracle to anyone but Alex and his mom, it’s pretty awesome how it all occurred.
Alex told the special Santa, who keeps the ho-ho-hos down in low lighting, that he wanted a grand piano. Even that sensitive Santa, upon hearing the lofty wish, warned Alex that Santa can’t bring everything wanted by those on the nice list.
The Register did a story about the Sensitive Santa session and reported that boys and girls that day asked for everything from black socks to a grand piano.
Barbara and Malcolm Rashba of Stratford, who lived in Orange for 30 years and have strong ties to the New Haven area, read about Alex’s wish in an article and offered to donate their mint condition Baldwin-Howard baby grand that is more than 75 years old, and was Barbara Rashba’s childhood piano.
All the couple requested was the piano worth about $7,000 be dedicated in memory of their son, Gary Rashba, who died two years ago of cancer at age 47.
They said Gary was “Musically inclined,” — he often played that baby grand — and was “philanthropic” — so he would have loved the donation.
“If we can make a child happy, we’re happy to do that,” Barbara Rashba said.
Malcolm said, “I’m just delighted that someone who needs it can use it.”
The Rashbas called Mike Storz, president of the award-winning Chapel Haven Schleifer Center, a school for those with autism and other special needs, because the Register story mentioned the Santa that day looked a lot like Storz.
Storz loved the idea, but the question became one of logistics: Where would they get $500 or more to have the 650 pound instrument from Stratford to North Haven? It would take a team specializing in pianos because the item had to be carefully disassembled and reassembled.
That’s when the humans turned into elves.
Storz called Walter Petro, owner of Father & Son Moving & Storage in Wallingford and he didn’t hesitate to send a team to move the piano a few days before Christmas and even went along to see the magic happen.
“I said, ‘Let’s just do it because it’s the right thing to do,’” Petro said. “The look on Alex’s face is going to be priceless.”
And it really was priceless Monday. Santa escorted Alex downstairs to see his special gift.
As he wound the turn into the lower level playroom at his condo, Santa behind him (still resembling Storz), Alex clenched his fists, jumped with joy and peeked inside the piano said, “Look at these strings.”
Alex has always loved music and the school has told his mom he’s musically inclined. His dad bought him a keyboard not long ago after Alex expressed interest in a piano. He hasn’t had lessons — that’s next — but in two short YouTube sessions he memorized Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.”
Alex played that beginner’s classic first thing when he took the bench.
“I feel like it’s going to lead to something bigger down the road. That this will lead to a career,” Alex’s mom said.
Dedra Leapley, who along with her husband, Adam Leapley, founded ASD Fitness, a gym for those with special needs, said, “The stars aligned for this to happen.”
The Leapleys were instrumental in Alex’s fortune not only through holding the Sensitive Santa session, but also in the execution of delivery. Alex is a member of ASD Fitness who, years ago when he started, couldn’t complete a jumping jack. Now they’ve lost count of how many he can do.
The movers thought last minute the piano wouldn’t fit around the corner into Dauria’s lower level, but they tried anyway and it fit by a fraction of an inch.
“It was meant to happen,” Dedra Leapley said.
Dauria said that when Alex was asking for a grand piano he had no concept about the cost and thought maybe it was a $1 or $2 item.
The piano was delivered Saturday while Alex was out and mom kept him upstairs Sunday by telling Alex she had a lot of laundry to do, because the washer is downstairs and he hates the noise.
Storz said he’s amazed everyone came together so quickly in the busy holiday season.
Even Robert Alech of Robert Alech Piano Service out of New Haven, donated his piano tuning talent and said he’s grateful for the opportunity to help make Alex’s wishes come true.
“We all need to do things like that to make the world a better place,” he said.
Storz said of the piano donation coming together, “It’s a holiday miracle.”
“From a Jewish family,” Barbara Rashba responded with a smile.