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PALS November 2019 - John Tortorea from Pa Connecting Communities (PaCC)


PALS Meeting Minutes

November 20, 2019 9:15 a.m.

Market District Café Atrium - Waterworks Mall

910 Freeport Road Pittsburgh, PA 15215

Speaker John Tortorea Pa Connecting Communities (PaCC)

PA Connecting Communities (PaCC) is a state certified provider offering services to meet the diverse needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities including intellectual and autism difficulties. PaCC's mission is to support individuals according to their needs by empowering individuals and provide opportunities to improve their quality of life. As a member of PaCC's OVR and Transition Team, Transition Specialist John Tortorea provides transitional services focusing on providing experiences for students that promote inclusion into the community and will join us to introduce PaCC's latest transition program.

John shared his background, including twenty-five years in social services, with fifteen years in family services, along with working in the Quaker Valley School District as an administrator and special education teacher in a Life Skills classroom. While in the Life Skills classroom John found students and families were stressed by the transition process. Students would frequently stay in school until they aged out, but found repeatedly taking the same classes frustrating. Students and their families wanted more out of these additional years. John developed a program to get these students out into the community to teach them employment opportunities based on their individual interests. These ideas and this program were brought to PaCC and a transition program was implement in Allegheny County in March 2019.

PaCC's Transition Program was infused into their existing programing. Founded in 2004, PaCC has provided day services and special events for adults with a variety of different abilities. While serving over 3,000 adults in the community, PaCC offers 1-to-1 support and in some cases 2 or 3-to-1 support if needed. All programs are specialized / individualized for each student. PaCC works hard to connect with businesses in the community to offer students the ability to experience things that personally interests them. John shared an example with a young man going into an agricultural setting with his peers and PaCC staff and advocating for his personal interest of becoming a florist. PaCC found a community business interested in working with this young man and together they provided an individualized opportunity. These same supports and services are now provided for high school students transitioning to life after graduation.

Offered Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., a week-at-a-glance may look like:

Monday: Healthy cooking class, participants work to prepare a meal for lunch, afterward enjoying a physical activity, followed by a group activity.

Tuesday and Wednesday: members get out into the community by taking tours of businesses, going to the movies, or going to the zoo.

Thursday: more active outings into the community like swimming, bowling, or arts/crafts

Friday: Performing arts activities and classes leading up to a final group performance at the end of the semester.

Click on the image below for a full calendar of Fall 2019 events and visit

PaCC's Events & Community Calendar page for future publications.

There are multiple ways PaCC is paid for these services, whether through their members are on waivers , qualify for emergency waivers, or direct contracts with school districts. It is important for families to obtain a support coordinator to help with receiving waivers or emergency waivers.

The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) must spend 33% of their budget on high school students. Although all high schools have OVR counselors who can help families sometimes they are hard to pin down. Fox Chapel Area High School Transition Coordinator Stacie Dojonovic joined today's meeting and shared that in the case of FCASD an OVR counselor visits the high school once a week.

Since the OVR/Waiver funds are limited, PaCC is also contracting directly with schools to take OVR out of the picture. Although it costs school districts money, some love it and some hate it. Currently PaCC is working with 25 schools, North Allegheny being the latest. PaCC works with students at these high schools until they age out. PaCC has a contract with FCASD, although no current high school students have chosen PaCC, alumni (adults) are currently using PaCC.

For more information about PaCC, please visit PaConnectingCommunities.org.

FCASD Unified Sports Makes ESPN Honor Roll

On November 14, 2019 Fox Chapel Area High School, a Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) Unified Champion School, hosted a special banner presentation to acknowledge the school’s national recognition for its outstanding efforts to provide inclusive sports and activities for students with and without disabilities.

Fox Chapel Area High School is the first school from Allegheny County and the eighth in Pennsylvania to receive this national honor. In 2019, Special Olympics selected 125 schools to be designated National Banner Unified Champion Schools – including only two schools from Pennsylvania.

The school is also the only school from Pennsylvania and one of 34 schools nationwide to be named to the Special Olympics – ESPN Honor Roll for 2019. Honor Roll Schools are chosen as a result of meeting national standards of excellence in the areas of inclusion, advocacy, and respect. Because of their commitment to inclusion, these schools serve as an example and model for schools everywhere.

Of note, Fox Chapel Area is the first school district in Allegheny County to have a Unified Track team, which was established during the 2018-2019 school year. The high school also has had a Unified Bocce team since the 2017-2018 school year.

Reference Material

Need information regarding the rights to special education in Pennsylvania? The Education Law Center’s “A Guide for Parents and Advocates” is a great start.

Next Meeting: January 29, 2020 9:15 a.m. Eat'n Park Meeting Room - Waterworks Mall 849 Freeport Road Pittsburgh, PA 15238 currently scheduled as an Open Forum.

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