Published May 31. 2011 4:00AM Updated May 31. 2011 4:28AM
Old Lyme - His classmates and teachers call Salvatore Fava Lyme-Old Lyme High School's "go-to guy," the one everyone turns to when wiring and speakers need to be set up for a program, or sets built for the drama club musical or troubleshooting done on the robotics club's machine before an upcoming competition.
"He's the kind of kid, when he leaves next year, no one's going to know who to go to," said Anne Nyberg, a friend since middle school who teams with Fava in projects for Student Leaders, where she is president and he is vice president. "But he's pretty selfless. He doesn't look for people to praise him."
If her friend has a flaw, she said, it's that he doesn't seem to be able to say "no" when someone asks his help - even if it means spending hours helping a neighbor fill her yard with dozens of inflatable Halloween decorations. During the summer, Fava keeps busy helping at his parents' restaurant, doing yard work around town and working on carpentry projects for teachers.
"He just quietly goes about getting things accomplished," said John Byrne, the school librarian and adviser to WLYM, the in-house news station where Fava is producer. Both Byrne and technology education teacher Bill Derry have hired Fava for summer renovation projects.
"I've hired him to work at my house," said Derry, who also coaches the robotics team Fava is part of. "I've been a teacher for 25 years, and nobody compares to Sal when it comes to work ethic and manners. He's the kind of kid who takes the initiative to do the right thing, like when other kids don't clean up after class he stays during lunch to push the broom around."
Fava, 18, describes himself as someone who just enjoys being involved in a wide variety of activities, likes to challenge himself with AP classes and not limit himself to friends from the robotics club, or the crew team, or WLYM, or the band. He's learned to balance schoolwork, activities and helping out in his parents' restaurant, he said, by being organized.
"Doing the play expanded me to a different group of kids in the school," he said, referring to his work running the backstage technical systems for the shows and building sets. "When you do so much, you learn to prioritize stuff to stay focused."
His father, Mike, says that his son probably gets his work ethic and organizational skills from his parents, who need both to keep their restaurant, Sal's Pizza and Pasta in Old Saybrook, successful, and care for Salvatore and his 9-year-old brother, Nicholas.
"We're workaholics ourselves, energetic ourselves," he said of himself and his wife, Antoinette. His son's aptitude with mechanics and carpentry, though, has no genetic origin that he knows of, but he's more than grateful to have that skill set in the family.
"He's my handyman," he said. "He can repair anything in the restaurant." His son, he said, can figure out how to build or fix something seemingly by osmosis.
"He just absorbs it and absolutely has the eye for it," the elder Fava said.
The family restaurant was named not for the younger Fava, but for his 75-year-old grandfather and namesake, Salvatore, a Sicilian native who opened the restaurant 17 years ago and is now semi-retired.
This fall, Fava will head to the Rochester Institute of Technology to begin studies in the engineering exploration program. He's not sure yet exactly how he'll apply his mechanical skills.
"I liked that the main focus of the professors there was on teaching," he said. "And I like that the school has a Formula 1 racing team. I thought that was pretty cool. I've always been into Legos and building things."