Archived News & Events - April 2020

April 21, 2020

A Rock Star Returns to Help

Rock Star

This past January, Assistant Program Director Mary Pyle who worked at 1801 N. Front Street in Harrisburg left Merakey after 15 dedicated years to spend quality time with her family. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, Mary contacted Regional Director Holly Karalus to let her know that she wanted to come back to support the programs that she helped to develop throughout the years, during this unprecedented time of need. Holly didn’t hesitate to welcome Mary back as a PRN Supervisor for all five Capital Region Residential Programs. Thank you, Mary, for coming back to Merakey as the rock star you are to support your team during these difficult months.

April 21, 2020

Utilizing Technology to Engage Students

Denise Thomas, Emotional Support Teacher at the Merakey Education Center in East Freedom, PA, created YouTube videos for her students to motivate and to keep them active while they are home practicing social distancing. Check out Denise’s videos below on how to make finger paints with few ingredients, as well as the results of her work! Thank you, Denise, for sharing your talent and videos with Merakey. Your students are lucky to have a creative and engaging teacher!

How to make finger paint:

Finger paint creations: >>
April 21, 2020

Planning for Independence and Integration

As many working in the field know, the current systems and infrastructure designed to support people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) is unsustainable. To meet the market challenges shaping the system, Merakey is exploring technology to meet the needs of the IDD population, while adding value to the system. Click here to read more about IDD’s innovative use of technology to support residents who wish to become more independent and included.

Thank you to Vice President of Professional and Administrative Services Sherri Portnoy, IDD Innovation Manager Shaleea Shields, and Business Development Consultant Rene Burke for your valuable contributions towards this important article published in Social Innovations Journal.

April 21, 2020

A Thankful Team in Allegheny County

A Thankful Team

Staff at the Russellton Long Term Supported Residential facility in Allegheny County, PA presented Director Vanessa Varacalli and Supervisor Danielle Santopietro bouquets of beautiful spring flowers for being so supportive of the team at the LTSR and for keeping the program on its feet during these challenging times.

Great job and thank you for all that you’re doing to support our staff and residents!

April 21, 2020

Thank You Merakey Heroes

Thank You

Alex from Merakey IDD in Washington County, PA made a sign to thank his direct care workers who continue to support him every day, during the pandemic.

Everyone at Merakey agrees that our direct care staff members are true heroes!

Thank you!

April 21, 2020

Making Masks While Boosting Morale

During the last Merakey Fresh Start management meeting, leaders identified the need to create activities in the residential programs to boost morale and to occupy the residents in positive ways. The leaders asked the residents what they would like to do as a team, and they overwhelmingly decided to make personal face coverings for everyone at Fresh Start.

Kyle Curtis, Fresh Start Program Manager took the lead on the project. Kyle researched the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for making, maintaining, and storing face coverings to ensure the team was following the proper process. After receiving approval to proceed with the project from Executive Director, Jeff Pittner, Kyle and residents from almost half the programs were underway.

When they were finished creating the masks, Kyle and team gave out almost 150 of them to other Fresh Start residents, in addition to printed versions of the CDC guidelines on maintaining and storing the masks. The team took great pride in their accomplishment, especially since they are so stylish to wear. If any Merakey programs are interested in learning more about the process managed by Kyle, please contact him at

Making Masks
Making Masks
Making Masks
Making Masks
April 21, 2020

Labor Partners in Caring

District 1199C

Gary McCormick, a key labor partner and Administrative Organizer with the National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees, District 1199C delivered 120 KN95 masks this week to Merakey Philadelphia located at 4700 Wissahickon Avenue. The Union purchased and donated the masks to help in the efforts to keep their members safe. The masks are being distributed to Merakey IDD Philadelphia, AVS SFR and AVS waiver group homes.

Merakey deeply appreciates the generosity of Henry Nicholas, President, District 11199C, National Union of Hospital and Healthcare Employees and their willingness to support our dedicated staff members during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

April 21, 2020

Thank You, United Way!

Thank You!

The United Way awarded several nonprofits, including Merakey, with portions of $32,500 in grant funding this week. Merakey will use the funds to deliver groceries and personal hygiene items to at-risk individuals who are unable to secure these items themselves. Click here to read more.

Merakey is grateful to the United Way for their support, which is much needed, during this difficult time.

April 21, 2020

Can You Hear the People Sing in Dormont, PA?

Monique Fontaine and her neighbors, who live in Dormont, PA, decided to turn a difficult situation into a positive communal experience. After being quarantined for several days, Monique, who usually spends her days working in the Fiscal Department in Coraopolis, joined her neighbors outside of their homes, and began singing in celebration of each other. They soon realized that this small action helped to bring joy around the neighborhood. It didn’t take long for them to brand themselves as the “CoronaChoir” as they sang well known songs including “Can You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Misérables and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” from Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

ABC World News Tonight and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette heard about this remarkable act of togetherness and the CoronaChoir was featured both on TV and online. Thank you, Monique, for giving us the opportunity to see how a small town can make a huge impact. Click here to listen to the audio file

April 21, 2020

Social Distancing for Autism Awareness

During this difficult time staff at the Slippery Rock Program Center continue to support and raise public awareness of autism. We continue to help support and work toward an improved quality of life of those with autism so that they can lead a full and meaningful life as an integral part of society.

Social Distancing at Slippery Rock Social Distancing for Autism on the Sensory Garden grounds and from the roof of the Slippery Rock Program Center.

Staff cheered M-E-R-A-K-E-Y; almost like Y-M-C-A!

April 21, 2020

Going Above and Beyond

Staff members at Merakey’s East Berlin Behavioral Health Assisted Living Group Home have gone above and beyond, offering compassionate and kindness to consumers in their program, during this time that is creating upheaval to their daily routines.

Program Supervisor Sherry Rosenberg is very thankful for the creativity of all staff at the home, who have made it their collective goal to continue engaging the consumers with a variety of fun activities. Throughout the past month, consumers have struggled with current events, and shown signs of fear and depression. Staff encourage consumers to face their fears and depression with the power of music. The halls of the home are often filled with the sounds of tambourines, hand drums, and voices of those signing their favorite songs.

In addition to music, staff are busy planning games and outdoor activities to keep residents’ minds active. Staff member Cindy Elder brought in corn hole for everyone to play, and on sunny days, staff and residents can be found walking by and fishing at a nearby stream.

Residents were treated to a visit from Sherry’s new puppy, Izzy, a chihuahua. Merakey thanks the staff members at East Berlin Group Home for your continued support of the residents during this uncertain time.

Going above and beyond
Going above and beyond
Going above and beyond