Donnelly, a longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident and business leader who is an acquaintance of U.S. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, got the congressman interested in Britten's plan to expand his campus center with an aquatic therapy facility. After several years of effort, the collaboration finally paid off.
The congressman, campus leaders and Donnelly joined together recently to announce that Britten's $3.5 million Western Center for Adaptive Aquatic Therapy soon will become a reality on campus, in part because of a $1 million federal budget allocation that McKeon obtained this year for the project.
"A lot of people are going to get a lot of good benefit from this," said McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), announcing the allocation on the day President Clinton signed the federal appropriations bill that contained the funding. "And the people who have put their lives into making this facility what it is will be able to do that much more and help that many more people."
"This is indeed a special day in my life," added Britten, (right)a CSUN faculty member since 1959 and director of the center, which currently serves about 600 people a year with a variety of disabilities. "We'll be able to expand our programs. It'll be a wonderful opportunity for our students. And we probably can triple the number of people we'll be able to bring into the program."
Britten's current center, where CSUN students train in therapy and related skills by helping CSUN students and community members who have disabilities, currently operates out of 5,000-square-feet in the Kinesiology Building with a collection of treadmills and other exercise and therapy equipment.
The center's reputation has grown through the years, not only because its services to the community are at a very low cost, but also because of its extraordinary success in rehabilitating clients beyond what others often thought was possible. Thus the center now has a two to three-year waiting list for client openings.
The planned 8,000-square-foot adaptive aquatic therapy center, which could begin construction by this summer, will be built as an expansion of the existing center on the north side of the Kinesiology Building. The facility will have four therapeutic pools to help those with disabilities, including children.
A warm water pool will help adults with spinal cord and other disabling conditions. A cool water pool will help those with multiple sclerosis and similar conditions. A moving floor pool will allow the center to expand its services to include children. And a warm water spa will help with joint and soft tissue injuries.
CSUN Interim President Louanne Kennedy thanked McKeon for his help, telling him, "You've made a difference not just to the community of 28,000 students here, but to the whole community of the San Fernando Valley. And we will forever be grateful to you for that."
And to Britten, the president added, "The commitment you have to helping people who are often those that others don't want to see is really what is extraordinary about you. And you do it with gentleness and devotion and commitment, but also with extraordinary skill."
That's certainly a sentiment that Art Donnelly (left, working with student-therapist Steve Paredes)would second. The first time he came to Britten's center in 1996, he had to be carried in and out by hand. Now, after several years of regular twice-a-week sessions, Donnelly says he's about 80 percent independent and has much better use of his arms and hands.
"This is a wonderful place. I can't say enough about it," said Donnelly of Britten's center. "It's a fraternity. If someone's sick, we worry about them. It's just like a different life. I love Northridge. I wish it was my alma mater. Maybe I can go back and get my doctorate and say I graduated from Northridge."
McKeon credited Donnelly, who broke his neck and back during a fall in Mexico, with getting him interested in the aquatic therapy project, convincing him to tour Britten's current center and keeping contact with McKeon in prior years when the funding proposal had stalled in Washington.
"I've always been a man of action. That's what my personality is," said Donnelly. "This was one way I could thank the center for all the help they've given me. It's one way I can say 'thank you.' The aquatic therapy project is a reality. It isn't a dream anymore."