Archived News & Events, November 2019


November Anniversary Celebrations

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

  • Gary Rudzik, Manager of Accounting, 34 years of service
  • Stacey Speer, Administrator, 27 years of service
  • Shaleea Shields, Technology and Innovation Manager, 15 years of service

AVS Anniversaries


Visit from U.S. Representative Conor Lamb's District Director

On November 15, Dj Ryan, the District Director at U.S. House of Representatives for the Office of Conor Lamb, visited the Day Program at the Merakey Allegheny Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Mr. Ryan met with Direct Support Professionals and individuals supported throughout the morning to discuss community participation and other topics important to DSPs. DSPs were happy to take some time with Mr. Ryan to advocate for themselves and the individuals they support.

Conor Lamb Visit
Conor Lamb Visit

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.