Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Marlene Quaroni - Florida Catholic
Photography: MARLENE QUARONI | FC
MIAMI GARDENS | When Dan Brandt first set foot on the Marian Center’s 50-acre campus, he saw the good work that the Sisters of St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, and the faculty, do to serve people with developmental disabilities. He became devoted to helping the center.
“It’s an oasis, a beautiful and peaceful place,” said Brandt, a Marian Center board member. The school has about 42 children from six to 22 years old and about 77 adults in its adult training program. “Special needs children and adults are helped to reach their fullest potential. I usually come to the center once a week.”
Brandt, 66, owner of Billiards by Brandt, has a history of advocating for special needs children. As a legal aid attorney for the Oregon Legal Services Corporation in Pendleton, his practice emphasized environmental, consumer and special education issues. He graduated from Southern Oregon University and received a law degree from the University of New Hampshire.
He practiced law in Oregon until he returned to his native Miami in 1988 and took over the family business, selling billiard tables. He also works with other social service organizations in the Miami community, among them the Homeless Trust, Voices for Children, and the Guardian Ad Litem program, and he serves as a poll watcher.
“Special needs children have a right to a free appropriate education,” said Brandt, who mediates in special education disputes. “They have a right to an individualized education plan.”
Brandt, who has installed tables for several celebrities, recently donated a billiard table to the Marian Center. With the help of Brandt and his son, Charlie, two adults in the center’s adult training program, Anthony Castellon, 29, and Eric Cowherd, 23, assembled the antique billiard table in the school’s activities center. They used drills and other tools as they put the table together, piece by piece. The sisters chose the two students for their skills and strength.
“Anthony has manual dexterity and Eric understands angles and velocity,” said Brandt. “The sisters use the student’s innate abilities to bring out their best potential. The assembly skills of putting together the table are basic to any type of construction.”
Brandt said that the billiard table is not just for entertainment, but will help the students’ dexterity.
“Playing pool will provide a good teaching experience,” he said. “The students will learn angles, geometry, ‘English’ or spin — which affects the roll of the white cue ball when it hits the object ball. Hand to eye coordination is a key point to playing pool. You must understand what one arm is doing. The forearm stays steady, the back arm is the power arm. The game is about finesse, not strength. It’s a tremendously valuable tool that will cause social interaction. You have a dialogue occurring with other players on how to hit the ball.”
A week after installing the table, Brandt brought John DiToro, a pool professional and winner of several championships, to teach members of the adult training program and some of the faculty how to play the centuries-old game. Castellon, who helped put the table together, was one of several adult training students who took part in the pool class. They cheered and encouraged each other as they took turns learning the game.
“I never played pool before,” he said. “I like hitting the ball with the stick. I plan to play often.”
Barbara Psinakis, Marian Center teacher and director of adult programs, said she is happy to have another form of indoor entertainment and skills learning.
“Students will use the pool table a lot during the warmer months,” she said. “It’s another form of physical education and provides immediate gratification and camaraderie.”