Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Group Organizes Social Activities for Disabled People

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Group Organizes Social Activities for Disabled People

Article excerpt

Don Lewis has cerebral palsy, uses a motorized wheelchair and doesn't have a lot of opportunity to socialize and meet new people with common interests.

"He sees people at work who go out and do things," said Lewis' mother, Jule Appelbe. "He has a great desire to meet people. The dating situation is not there."

But in September, Lewis, 30, of Mt. Lebanon, attended a dance in Green Tree with more than 200 people with mental retardation, developmental disabilities and other disabilities. He had a blast.

"He loved it," Appelbe said.

The dance is now a monthly effort by the private, nonprofit PA Connecting Communities, a group of about 40 special education teachers, speech pathologists, nurses and other professionals who have been working together in various agencies such as Special Olympics and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit for more than 20 years.

The group, headquartered in Highland Park, was established this year and its members hope to fill the gap in social services for people with disabilities.

Led by executive directors Arlene Bair and Peggy Mannella, PA Connecting Communities also offers other services, including respite care, and such activities as bowling and classes in dancing, cooking and weight training in several locations in Allegheny County.

Lewis, who works part time at the Downtown YMCA in the laundry department, enjoys meeting people his age. But Appelbe said people with disabilities often are lumped into one group so that 17-year- olds must socialize with 70-year-olds with whom they may share little in common.

"They're all clumped together," Appelbe said. PA Connecting Communities tries to tailor specific programs to the appropriate age group.

In Lewis' case, he sees his older and younger brothers working and socializing and wants to be like them.

But many programs in the area have waiting lists for services, and few focus on social skills.

"It seems like we're going backwards," Appelbe said. "The programs [on social skills and recreation ] of 10 years ago were gung-ho," she said. …

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