Current News & Events


IDD Program Transformation in Western PA

In 2018, Merakey Intellectual and Development Disabilities (IDD) services in Western Pennsylvania launched an initiative funded by the Polk Foundation to transform its traditional day program into a true person-centered approach. The first phase concluded with a celebration and planning for next steps with 60+ stakeholders at Heinz Field on November 7 and 8.

“Individuals with IDD and their families are seeking different services. People want to be valued members of the community,” explained Carol Erzen, Staff Development Executive and Program Transformation Project Lead.

The Merakey IDD Transformation Team identified 30 individuals - called Pathfinders - to begin an intensive process of person-centered planning (PCP) to move them away from human service settings to typical community places through self-determined choices. At PCP sessions, the individual and support team uncover qualities, passions and skills that help create a sense of belonging, respect and sharing of ordinary places.

Implementation required diligence but the stories told by several Pathfinders illustrated the effectiveness of person-centered planning.

Floyd’s team discovered his passion for fast cars, a desire to “pay his own way” on dates, go on a beach vacation, and get a dog! The owner of a race car that has a four-point harness made Floyd’s dream possible. On an Erie beach vacation, he was able to use his own debit card.

Eric’s broadcasting interest led to a WBUT Radio tour. When radio frequency changes blocked the public from listening to police and EMS calls on scanners – another of his hobbies – Eric wanted to know why. Soon he was attending County Commissioners meetings to keep abreast of community issues and advocate for direct service professionals.

Ann seeks to bond with friends with like interests – swimming, shopping, country music, spa days, and dates. Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean are among her idols. Ann now has a swim club membership and her team is working on accommodations. She “doesn’t like to sit home,” she said.

Liz, like others, was skeptical at first. “I have been to a lot of meetings . . . I didn’t get to say a word,” she said. “This approach was different.” She spoke up about frustration in finding “a real job.”

An opportunity was identified and she was chosen for a fellowship with the University of Pittsburgh LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Center, a program of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that strives to understand factors that help all individuals attain optimal health and developmental trajectories over a lifetime. Liz’s “dream job” is to be a receptionist.

Kayla also wanted to work. “I tried college but found that it was not for me,” she explained. She was connected to a job coach and is now employed by Chick-Fil-A. “I wanted a real job and I got it,” she exclaimed proudly. Her next goals are her driver’s license, debit card, vacation on her own, and continue using her video phone to reconnect with friends who are deaf.

Project consultant John O’Brien observed, ”Where we see people impacts how we see people. To ask ‘where’s the place that this person comes alive’ takes courage. At some point the system has to take on a new structure because it won’t hold for people like the Pathfinders we met today.”

Carol Erzen thanked participants for their hard work, urged all to apply PCP to daily supports, and to participate in next steps identified at the meeting. Visit to follow progress.


Trunk or Treat

On November 5, Merakey Allegheny Valley School, Pittsburgh Campus, along with Environmental Services HHS, hosted their 2nd Trunk or Treat on campus. Each living area and several departments set up tables for the individuals receiving supports to visit and receive Halloween treats. Everyone worked together to make it a fun day!

Trunk or Treat
Trunk or Treat
Trunk or Treat
Trunk or Treat

PVGP Victory Lap

The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP), presented by the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Foundation, hosted its annual Victory Lap at Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh, PA. Almost 200 guests gathered to congratulate and thank sponsors, charity ambassadors and volunteers. Merakey Allegheny Valley School was also presented with a donation of $1,000 from Subaru of America, Inc.

Proceeds from the 2019 PVGP will be announced on February 13, 2020, at the Dancing with the Cars event. Since the PVGP’s start in 1983, it has raised more than $5 million for its two charities – Merakey AVS and the Autism Society of Pittsburgh.


Rah, Rah, Rock is a Hit!

Rob, who receives supports at the Merakey Allegheny Valley Slippery Rock Program Center (SRPC), expressed interest in writing a song for the Slippery Rock University Marching Band. With assistance from staff member Anthony Bellassai, Rob was recorded singing his ideas in the SRPC computer lab and came up with the song ‘Rah, Rah, Rock.’

Anthony worked with Rob for several months, piecing together the masterpiece and having the band practice it. Rob was thrilled to hear the band play his creation. The SRU marching band director Dr. Jonathan Helmick, was contacted and was thrilled with the opportunity to read through the piece and have the marching band perform Rob’s music creation.

Can't see the video? Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Guest Speakers at the Moon Area Rotary Club

On October 22, Olivia from Merakey Allegheny Valley School, along with Development and Community Engagement Coordinator Amy Rocini, were guest speakers at the Moon Area Rotary Club. They were invited to provide Rotarians with an overview of Merakey and Merakey Allegheny Valley School. Olivia was thrilled to let the Rotary members know about her volunteer work with the West Hills Meals on Wheels and its Food Pantry. Olivia also spoke about her Monday Bowling League and her participation in the Miracle League of Southwestern PA.

“It was such a delight to get to know Olivia as we rode together to and from the meeting,” noted Amy Rocini. “Olivia has an incredible personality, which was apparent while she spoke about her involvement with Meals on Wheels. We were impressed to learn that once Olivia has the food packed up that she personally delivers it to five families within the area – all whom she knows by name.”

Moon Area Rotary Club + Olivia

Olivia and Amy with Rotarian Eddie Gaffney and Club President Kilee Bomgardner.


Congratulations, Emily – Named Self Advocate Employee of the Year

Emily had a very busy day in Harrisburg! As the Self Advocate Employee of the Year for Pennsylvania’s Western Region, she and her parents had a tour of the Capitol, including a personal meeting with Representative Aaron J. Bernstine. During this meeting she shared her passion for horses and dogs, and before she left Representative Bernstine’s office, she had an invitation to his farm to visit his horse, and the opportunity for the job of grooming his dogs!

Later in the day she received her award at the PAR Annual Solutions Conference, “We Are Worth It.” Awards Ceremony. As one of Merakey’s first Pathfinders she advocates for herself – and others – as they take steps to reaching their fullest potential. Emily has a love of animals and through her person-centered planning process she identified the desire to work with an equestrian riding program. She is fulfilling the requirements of the job with support she receives at the Merakey AVS Slippery Rock Program Center. Emily also loves dogs and this year secured a job at Slippery Rock Pet Groomers where she is very helpful in calming and soothing the pets. “This feels fantastic,” exclaimed Emily after receiving the award.

“It’s so exciting to see people like Emily who know what they want out of life, and I have no doubt she will continue to work hard to achieve her dreams,” said Mark Davis, PAR President and CEO. “Providers like Merakey AVS work hard to help people like Emily achieve their dreams every day in Pennsylvania.”

Congratulations Emily!


Anniversary Celebrations at Merakey AVS

Happy Anniversary!Happy Anniversary! Employees from Merakey Allegheny Valley School at 1996 Ewings Mill Road in Pittsburgh celebrate Merakey’s 50th Anniversary by highlighting work anniversaries each month with sweet treats. Thank you to the following for your dedication to the Merakey mission.

  • Barb Quigley, Financial Systems Analyst - 37 years
  • Sara Kelchner, Senior Accountant - 10 years

Murals at Patricia Hillman Miller Campus

The hallways at Patricia Hillman Miller Campus, Merakey Allegheny Valley School are brighter and more welcoming thanks to three beautiful murals painted by artist Lynne Mack of Decorative Painting by Lynne. Two of the murals were donated to Merakey Allegheny Valley School by friend Christopher Butsko, and the third was a donation from Lynne herself.

“The paintings by Lynne are terrific,” commented Administrator Michelle Miller. “I have heard so many positive comments. We are grateful to Lynne for sharing her incredible talent!!”

AVS Mural
AVS Mural
AVS Mural

42 Years of Excellence

PaulineCongratulations to Pauline Seibert, a Direct Support Professional at Merakey Allegheny Valley School, for being featured by the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals for 42 years of excellence. Pauline has truly displayed her commitment and dedication to the people she supports. In fact, she is so committed that she has never called out of work a day in her entire career! Readers may recall that Pauline was recognized in August as part of Merakey’s 50th Anniversary Employee Spotlight campaign. Nominated by Senior Executive Director Paula Nerone for this special campaign by NADSP, Pauline is thrilled to be recognized again. She still remains humble though, despite the well-deserved attention.

Thank you, Pauline, for all that you do to support the people at Merakey AVS and for putting your heart and soul into exceptional care and services.


Staff Appreciation Day at Merakey AVS on Verree Road

On September 11, staff at Merakey Allegheny Valley School on Verree Road in Philadelphia were treated to lunch prepared by Lintons Managed Services and they were given t-shirts with the acronym DSP imprinted on them, but with a different and equally important meaning: Dedicated, Supportive, Professional.


Merakey AVS Rotarians at Roxtoberfest

McKees Rocks Rotarians from Merakey Allegheny Valley School volunteered at the annual Roxtoberfest fundraiser. Rotary member Wendy greeted each guest as they walked through the door and pulled the winning 50/50 raffle ticket. Greater Mckees Rocks 15136 Rotary Club supports Merakey AVS programs in Kennedy Township, PA.


DSP of the Quarter at Merakey Allegheny Valley School

Mary Cavender

Congratulations Mary Cavender, Direct Support Professional of the Quarter at Merakey Allegheny Valley School!

“Mary is a very dedicated staff person; always smiling and putting the needs of the gentlemen she supports as her priority,” commented Administrator, Donna Stuckey.

The DSP of the quarter award has been made possible through Steven’s Fund to recognize Merakey Allegheny Valley School Direct Support Professionals. The fund was created in 2017 in memory of Steven Garlick by his mother Betsy Friedman.

To contribute to the fund, visit and include “Steven’s Fund” in the “other” and/or “comments / instructions” box.


Consumer Advocacy Picnic

The Consumer Advocacy Groups (CAG) from the Western Region of PA gathered at Moraine State Park for the 2nd Annual CAG Picnic. Everyone was glad to reconnect with members they had met the previous year and get to know new members. The day included a brief meeting, lunch, carnival games, fishing and a concert.


Motorcycle Charity Ride benefits Merakey Allegheny Valley School

On September 22, the Crafton-Ingram Rotary hosted its first Annual Motorcycle Charity Ride to benefit Merakey AVS. The ride began at the Merakey AVS Kennedy Program Center and included 40 motorcycles, 1 Slingshot and 1 Viper. Tiny and Jim from Merakey AVS greeted the bikers and posed for photographs before the ride began.

The ride included a visit to Merakey AVS Pittsburgh Campus, where many were outside cheering on the riders with "Thank You" signs. The 50-mile ride took turns throughout Allegheny County, making its way to Merakey AVS Patricia Hillman Miller Campus (PHMC) where a porch and balcony full of people were clapping and cheering. Ken and Stephanie joined the bikers at the end of the event at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Crafton.

The event raised $1,475 for Merakey AVS programs that support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.

Merakey bikers included - Sr. Manager of Recruiting Jim Battaglia, Motor Development Specialist Jen Morse and Development & Community Engagement Coordinator Amy Rocini. Bikers were also represented by the following rotary clubs: Crafton-Ingram, McKees Rocks Area, Pittsburgh and Rich-Mar. Many thanks to the Crafton and Ingram Police for providing an escorted ride from PHMC to the Knights of Columbus Hall.

We are so grateful to the Crafton-Ingram Rotary Club and to Rotarians Joe Orbovich and Don Wolbert, Jr. for coordinating the event, and plan to make the 2020 event even larger!

Thanks to the following Merakey AVS employees for assisting with the event: Cathy Engleka, Jean Germain, Jan and Dennis Harvilla, Michelle Miller, Amy Rocini, Leslie Sprawls and daughter Rylie and Sydney Hails. We are also grateful to the food prep crew at the Edward J. Zapp Program Center for providing mini muffins for the sendoff. And a big shout out to everyone at Pittsburgh Campus and PHMC for greeting the bikers and for showing their Merakey pride.

Click the following links to see videos from the event: Clip #1 | Clip #2


Friends of Merakey Allegheny Valley School Golf Open

On September 16, Merakey AVS held its 28th annual golf open at Chartiers Country Club. Chaired by Rick Mongiovi from Mongiovi & Son, the day was a huge success, raising more than $130,000 for Merakey AVS programs that support adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.

Merakey AVS Pathfinder Elizabeth Humphrey co-emceed the dinner event with Executive Director, Development & Communications Dorothy Gordon. Elizabeth shared with the 175+ dinner guests the amazing opportunities that have opened to her during the past year, and shared her original poem, “I Can’t be Put Down”.

During dinner Linda Fabian received the 2019 AVS CHAMPion award. Linda retired this past May after 44 years with Merakey AVS. Western Regional Executive Director Gary Hoffman presented the award, and Chief Executive Officer Joe Martz offered his gratitude to Linda for giving her heart and soul to Merakey AVS for 44 years.

Congratulations to our golf winners:

  • 1st place team (score of 55) - Kent Foster, Mark DeWitt, Dave Penz and Tom Reading
  • 2nd place team (score of 56) - Matt Kerr, Kellen Lovejoy, Dan Labuda, Aaron Laverick
  • 3rd place team (score of 56) - Kevin Seigworth, Brian Sanders, Brett Adelman and Tanner Ivol
  • Longest Drive: Jon Lodovico and Elaine Hoffman
  • Straightest Drive: Dan DelBianco
  • Longest Putt: Chad Teasdale
  • Closest to the Pin: Chad Teasdale
  • Putting Contest: Steve Knightlenger

We are so grateful to all who contributed to the success of the 2019 Friends of Merakey Allegheny Valley School Golf Open!

Friends of Merakey AVS Golf Open 2019

Merakey Allegheny Valley School Attends The Lion King

74 individuals and accompanying staff members from Merakey AVS attended a sensory performance of The Lion King at the Benedum Center. Thank you to the Walter F. and Ellen H. Nicoden Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation for providing funding for these tickets.

Attendees from Galey and Robinson celebrated the special day with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe Pittsburgh after the show.

The Lion King