Programs help disabled students be their best

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - Updated: 9:50 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

For more than 65 years, St. Anthony School Programs has helped students of all faiths with intellectual disabilities to live their lives to the fullest academically, socially, vocationally and spiritually.

“We get the children to thrive,” said Jerry Gaughan, chief executive officer.

The Catholic-based inclusive educational program serves children ages 5-21 with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and/or other intellectual disabilities. It works with parents to determine each child’s level of inclusion, and special resource room support helps them grow and become active contributing members of society.

The program educates some 115 students and features four elementary school sites (Blessed Trinity in Glenshaw, Mary of Nazareth in White Oak, St. Thomas More in Bethel Park and St. Therese in Munhall); three secondary sites (Bishop Canevin, Serra Catholic and North Catholic high schools); and a post-secondary program at Duquesne University.

Some newer programs offered by St. Anthony include enhanced speech therapy, occupational therapy and behavioral therapy. Gaughan noted that through the generosity of people throughout the Pittsburgh area, more than $300,000 in scholarships — the most ever — was offered to students this year.

He pointed out that the program operates entirely on donations from individuals. The average cost to educate each student is about $18,000 a year, Gaughan noted, and fundraising helps St. Anthony pick up about $12,000 of the cost. Some 80 percent of the students received aid this year. An immediate-use endowed scholarship fund has a goal of $250,000 a year. He said that 100 percent of donations stay with the program and aid students.

By 2030, some 80,000 people in western Pennsylvania will be afflicted with autism, creating an even greater need for programs, Gaughan said. 

But despite its great success in meeting the needs of its students, he noted, many people are still not aware of its existence. Part of the problem, Gaughan said, is that there is no physical building to identify with. The St. Anthony School for Exceptional Children in Oakmont closed in 1992, when the program became known as St. Anthony School Programs.

“While we don’t have a building, our actions are stronger than any facility,” Gaughan said.

A 5-year-old student with autism, who would not speak at the beginning of the school year, was talking freely by the end, he said. “It’s through the training. It was a miracle there in one year.”

Many of the alumni who have been able to leave the program and join the workforce, Gaughan said. None of it would be possible, he noted, without the generosity of supporters.

“They want happiness,” Gaughan said of the students. “They want love. They want a home. They want to be accepted. They want to be part of the world.”

The St. Anthony School Programs’ 2018 Annual Dinner and Auction is set for Friday, Oct. 26, at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown. The featured speaker will be Edward Barbanell, an actor with Down syndrome who has appeared in films such as “The Ringer,” “Hall Pass,” “Dumb and Dumber To” and “Addicted to Fresno.”

For information on the dinner and St. Anthony School Programs, contact Gaughan at 724-940-9020, ext. 103, or visit www.stanthonykids.org. 

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