Archived News & Events, June 2019


Merakey Attends Disability Pride Parade

On Saturday, June 15, individuals and staff from Merakey Allegheny Valley School on Verree Road in Philadelphia proudly attended the Philadelphia Disability Pride Parade wearing their Merakey shirts. Everyone had a great time representing Merakey at the Disability Pride Parade!

Disability Pride Parade


Celebrating Linda Fabian

Merakey Allegheny Valley School (AVS) bid farewell to long-time Executive Assistant and Coordinator of Administrative Policy & Procedure Linda Fabian, who retired after 44 years. Past and present employees from across the state gathered for a retirement party to say goodbye to a truly unforgettable employee.

“This is a great place to work and I am very appreciative of all the people that I have met and worked with over the many years that I have been here and consider all of them my second family,” commented Linda.

Linda will be honored as the 2019 AVS Champion at the Merakey AVS Golf Open in September!

Linda Fabian
Linda Fabian
Linda Fabian

Merakey IDD in Western PA: Program Transformation Update

Person Centered Planning Comes to Life through Art.

“The Art and Soul of Person Centered Planning” was the third in a series of workshops presented by Merakey AVS as part of its organizational transformation initiative. The session on June 6 at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills drew more than 120 professionals, family members and community representatives. The series is supported by the Polk Foundation.

“Person centered planning builds upon ways persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities can move away from human service settings to typical community places. Offering a range of choices that are self-determined enables them to fill more valued social roles and build their capacity to explore, discover and act with purpose in life,” said Staff Development Executive and Program Transformation Project Lead Carol Erzen. Through this approach, the wants and needs of the individual, rather than the requirements of the service delivery system, are used to create a plan for the future.

Presenter Carol Blessing, LMSW, Senior Extension Associate, Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability, ILR School/Cornell University, laid the foundation for the workshop citing Dr. Beth Mount, a noted expert on person centered planning (PCP) – and a participant in the Merakey IDD Program Transformation initiative. Dr. Mount’s work emphasizes that all people are born with gifts, talents and purpose; each person has a right to equal access to opportunities to explore and discover their gifts, talents and purpose and be contributing members of their community. Ms. Blessing explained that identifying qualities, passions, skills and talents, hobbies and interests engenders a sense of belonging, being respected, and a sharing of ordinary places. Contributing, choosing and community participation leads to valued social roles, community presence, competency, and autonomy for the person – what author John O’Brien calls ‘valued outcomes.’

Presenter Mary Jo Caruso, M.Ed., Training/Assistance Coordinator, Friends National Center for Community Based Child Abuse Prevention, a Federal Children’s Bureau service, introduced graphic facilitation, a tool for learning and applying basic skills used in person centered planning. Graphic facilitation develops capacity to listen ‘under the words’ and draw out the deeper messages. Ms. Caruso challenged the attendees to rediscover their capacity to create effective visual representations of PCP meetings or conversations. To demonstrate, she asked participants to create traditional descriptions of themselves and then express the words, traits and identifiers in symbols or pictures.

The “creation of a story without words” or graphic recording, allows people to interact with the material generated resulting in a creative, productive and satisfying shared experience for all, especially the focus person. “The mix of the visual and dialog is a great way to learn about someone’s present life and future goals. The interaction allows them to take charge of what they want out of life,” commented attendee Rachel Carretta, an occupational therapy doctoral student at Duquesne University.

The next workshop in the series is on Tuesday, September 3, from 9:30am – 3:30pm at Rodef Shalom Congregation (4905 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA) with David Pitonyak presenting “The Importance of Belonging.” For more information about the program transformation initiative contact Carol Erzen, Staff Development Executive and Program Transformation Project Lead ( This project has been made possible by a grant to Merakey AVS from the Polk Foundation.


The Longest Day at Pittsburgh Campus

On June 21, the summer solstice, individuals and staff members at the Pittsburgh Campus celebrated The Longest Day, and it was a spectacular success. These celebrations occur around the globe and symbolizing the strength of light outshining the darkness of Alzheimer’s.

The festivities at Pittsburgh Campus started bright and early with Behavior Specialist Becky Mitchell serving as the Master of Ceremonies. Individuals who live in the Memory Care Home sang The Star-Spangled Banner as well as You Are My Sunshine, all led by Music Therapist Denise Noel. Everyone participated in linking paper chains together between trees, symbolizing the unity in the fight to end Alzheimer’s. Employees at 1996 Ewings Mill also participated in the celebration by wearing purple and supporting Pittsburgh Campus’ activities and raffles. Congratulations to Barb Quigley and Nancy Falconer for each winning an auction item.

Throughout the day, there were plenty of games and activities for everyone to enjoy. Shout out to the following people for making this event so great:

  • Abbye Palmer, Christine Loria, and Deb Dolan - face painting and temporary tattoo artists
  • Christopher Mulenga and Brian Moore – photographer in the Sensory Garden
  • Lori Knappenberger, Lisa Livengood, Savannah Strickland, Cherri Parker and Penny Elliot – snow cone makers
  • Stacey Rutledge, Deb Dolan and Roseann Carlson – raffle and auction ticket sellers
  • Tina Harper– planner of the oceans exhibit in the recreation center and organizer of the food trucks
  • Teri Cirillo – SWAG and prizes distributor
  • Melinda Antes – games and activities supplier
  • Judi Maradin and Maggie Panizzi – finders of a beautiful Lucy Althea Hibiscus tree for the tree planting ceremony

This event demonstrated fantastic team work on behalf of the Longest Day Committee, the House Managers, the program staff, the Direct Care Staff, the Maintenance Department and the administrators. There is no doubt that this day was very special for all at the Pittsburgh Campus.


Anniversary Celebrations at Merakey Allegheny Valley School

Happy Anniversary! Merakey Allegheny Valley School’s 1996 Ewings Mill Road location is celebrating Merakey’s 50th by highlighting employees' work anniversaries each month with a dessert celebration. Thank you to the following for your dedication to the Merakey mission:

  • Brenna Erzen (5 years)
  • Kelly Gremba (16 years)
  • Nancy Metro (30 years)
  • John Sabedra (4 years)
  • Missy McMonagle(10 years)
  • Mary Ann Geilser (17 years)
  • Dawn Choura (7 years) (Not pictured)
  • Helenrose "Cookie" Fleming (4 years) (Not pictured)
Happy Anniversary!

Congratulations, Charlene Sellers

Charlene Sellers Charlene SellersCharlene Sellers from Merakey AVS, Pittsburgh Campus won the Employee Recognition Program for IDD Services.

Charlene was awarded for her exceptional observation skills and for exemplifying the Merakey core values. Charlene was nominated by fellow coworker Abby Palmer.

Congratulations, Charlene, on this well-deserved award!


Experience the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix up close as a VOLUNTEER!

PVGP - Volunteers wanted!

To sign-up as a NEW volunteer, text PVGPGO to 72727. Please include "Merakey" in the “Comments or Questions” box. (If you are a current volunteer, you do NOT need to do this.)

The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP) is the nation’s largest vintage street race with 11 days of racing, car shows, parties, parades and motorsport events. This year the PVGP celebrates its 37th annual race through the streets of Schenley Park. The PVGP is also a charity event with the mission of producing a world-class vintage automotive event to raise funds for autistic and intellectually/developmentally disabled individuals in the Pittsburgh region. Merakey AVS is a proud and grateful beneficiary of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix.

Reach out to Merakey's Amy Rocini (, Kelly Gremba ( or Dorothy Gordon ( with any questions. Questions by phone? Call 412-299-7777.


Laverne Smith Receives DSP Award

Laverne Smith

Laverne Smith was presented with the DSP of the Quarter Award on June 13. Laverne has been with Merakey Allegheny Valley School for seven years. Her nomination highlighted her teamwork, compassion, positive outlook, integrity and creativity. Laverne was very surprised by the award. She commented to Administrator Donna Stuckey, "Oh my! I never expected this when you asked to talk to me."

Donna added, “Laverne said she was very appreciative and would work hard at being a good role model for all the staff, especially the new staff.” Congratulations Laverne and thank you for putting your heart and soul into your work!

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.

Pictured is award winner Laverne Smith (center) with Roland Champ and Donna Stuckey.


Therapeutic Drumming Comes to Merakey AVS

On June 4, thirty-three staff members from Merakey Allegheny Valley School (AVS) gathered for the Drumming and Disabilities Training presented by Jim Donovan, a professional drummer and percussionist, recording artist, writer, teacher, lecturer and one of the founding members of the band Rusted Root. The room was filled with high energy as each participant played their own therapeutic drum and boom wacker. The program was created to promote attention to task, increase an overall engagement with caregivers, and give those supported by Merakey an alternate way to effectively communicate in an enjoyable manner. Drumming contributes to the natural ability of using rhythm to calm the mind and body and to release excess energy. This group was selected to participate in the program with the goal of implementing what they learned back at the campuses, homes and program centers.

Merakey AVS Clinical Director Karie Lyons attended one of Jim’s sessions at the Dual Diagnosis Conference last year and knew she had to bring this to the individuals supported by Merakey AVS. She spearheaded the training and worked with administrators and Program Director Jan Harvilla to identify eight individuals supported by Merakey AVS to attend a special session after the training. Everyone enthusiastically participated!

“This training was very interactive, there was a significant amount of movement throughout the day,” commented Karie Lyons. “Jim was an amazing presenter and easy to communicate with. He gave us many opportunities for participation and questions. It was an open learning environment. This was a training that we not only can use interactively with the people we support but also became a team building exercise with staff. Everyone participated, and it did not appear that anyone was uncomfortable to engage.”

“This is one of the best workshops I have ever attended,” said House Manager Joyce Frenz. “It was amazing to see how quickly some of the individuals responded to the exercises.”

Karie is in the process of ordering supplies for each Merakey AVS campus and program area in Western PA. This will be a wonderful way for staff to interact with individuals in a fun and therapeutic setting.

Thank you to the Walter F. and Ellen H. Nicoden Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation for underwriting the training and supplies.


Italian American War Vets Host 250 on the Three Rivers

More than 250 people from Merakey and Clelian Heights School for Exceptional Children enjoyed a cruise on the Three Rivers in Pittsburgh as guests of the Italian American War Veterans (IAWV). The June 6 journey aboard the Gateway Clipper Fleet’s Empress, was the 32nd IAWV “Sail for Smiles” cruise.

Guests were greeted by members of the IAWV and the Gateway Clipper staff as they boarded the vessel and settled-in for a 2-hour cruise that featured music by the Red Letter Hymnal Band of Christ Church at Grove Farm, Sewickley.

The warm and sunny weather brought participants to the top deck of the boat to dance and enjoy the city views. The vessel cruised past Station Square, the Carnegie Science Center, PNC Park, Heinz Field and many other well-known spots.

Comments included: “I am having fun and I love my new Pirates shirt,” said Michael.

“I like the band…and am gonna boogie,” shared Vicki. At the end of the trip, Ryan reminded us to "Abandon Ship."

"A shout out to employees Linda Adkins and Denise Jurges for welcoming guests, taking photographs and being the event coordinators. You were instrumental in making sure the event ran smoothly," applauded Amy Rocini.

This outing was made possible by the Italian American War Veterans and their sponsors and underwriters. We are grateful to the Veterans for their service and for their support of the event. A special shout-out to IAWV National Commander Tony Ficarri for his efforts with the event!


Making a Home Accessible

Making a Home AccessibleOn June 13, the women who live at Merakey Allegheny Valley School’s home on Barclay Road in Beaver County, PA welcomed Todd Sacco from Laughlin Memorial. A grant from Laughlin Memorial made it possible to build a ramp to the front door, making the home accessible! Additionally, grant funding helped to purchase new pillars for the front of the home. Merakey is grateful to Laughlin Memorial for over 15 years of continued support.

Picture from left to right: Todd Sacco, Trudy, House Manager Diona Miliner, Cathy, Administrator Stacey Speer and Michelle.