Dividends accrue from Penn College/BLaST community investment
The life-changing man of the moment – Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety – excites the crowd, sharing stories of past recipients and the reactions from their appreciative families.
Leading a parade of smiles around the Field House are bicyclists (and their guides): From foreground are Christina Steinbacher-Reed, BLaST executive director and wife of the college president (with their daughter); Lycoming County Commissioner Anthony R. Mussare (with fellow Commissioner Richard Mirabito) and Williamsport Mayor Derek Slaughter (with Daniel Coran, BLaST's assistant director of student services).
Happiness on wheels!
And, they’re off! Parents share their children's free-wheeling joy. (The girl in front is looking at one of the electronic devices that eligible youngsters can receive through Variety's "My Voice" program, which provides iPads for expression of thoughts, feelings, wants and needs.)
Teddy bears, stuffed full of hugs, share the love.
A blowup of the movie poster, and its attendant accolades from various festivals, greets filmgoers upon arrival to the ACC.
The audience watches, intently and in suspense, as Ferraro progresses through his senior-year schedule of matches.
"Braille is freedom," the film's subject tells the crowd, advocating more widespread use of a tactile literacy tool for blind and visually impaired readers. "I was given a Braille program tonight and it felt like someone handed me a million dollars!"
Nicholas Semon (with microphone), an electronics & computer engineering technology student who just completed his final season as a Wildcat wrestler, and his coach, Pankil Chander, take part in the follow-up dialogue ...
... and bookend Ferraro in appeasing a photographer at evening's end.
A music therapist (right) connects with staff members from the Community Theatre League, one of 23 vendors sharing information with those seeking post-high school avenues in education, work and the community. CTL – represented by Seth Sponhouse, executive artistic director, and Rubie Natal-Figueroa, executive assistant – offers opportunities for community members to shine on the stage, and The Penguin Project is a program specifically for artists with developmental disabilities.
Meagan Murray (right) of the Roads to Freedom Center for Independent Living, talks with visitors about various assistive technology available on the market and through a lending library at Temple University. Murray holds a Penn College degree in human services (2009).
Amber and Diana Logan, both certified Drums Alive instructors, lead sessions for attendees. The mother-daughter duo offers the classes at two local YMCAs for individuals with diverse abilities.
Using music, drumsticks and stability balls, Drums Alive incorporates fun into physical activity.
Stacey L. Girven (left) Penn College’s career and alumni events manager, lends a hand at a career exploration session, during which participants completed interest assessments.
Anthony Ferraro, who is blind and training for the 2024 Paralympics U.S. judo team, offers an encouraging keynote.
Ferraro lends time to a lineup of conference attendees who want to have their photo taken with him.
Katie L. Mackey, assistant director of disability and access resources for Penn College, introduces panelists. The quartet answered a wide range of questions from students.
Amber Logan, the Williamsport Sun-Gazette’s 2022 Person of the Year for her volunteerism and advocacy, answers an audience question. She emphasized that finding her purpose brought her fulfillment, and that every person in the room has a purpose, as well.
A panel comprising (from left) Diana Logan, Deb Moore, Emily Camerer and Sherry Wertman addresses parent questions.
Providing their insight to students are (from left) Anthony Ferraro; Mike Wrench, owner of Upbeat Outreach and the Transition Conference’s 2022 keynote speaker; Amber Logan, keynoter for the 2021 conference; and culinary arts technology student Kelsyn M. Hart, of Linden.
Dawn M. Dickey, director of disability and access resources, and Mackey announce one of the winners of a prize drawing. Those who visited at least seven vendor tables on their Pathways Passport were eligible.
“My Bike, My Stroller”
On Tuesday afternoon, residents from five area school districts gathered in appreciation for the pieces of adaptive equipment distributed free by Variety, the Children’s Charity.
BLaST – the acronym of which reflects its coverage area: Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties – partners with the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit in its My Bike, My Stroller and My Voice programs, the happy results of which were on display in the Field House.
College President Michael J. Reed and his wife, Christina Steinbacher-Reed, IU 17’s executive director, welcomed impacted families to the “My Bike, My Stroller” event.
The guests represented the Williamsport Area, Montoursville Area, Jersey Shore Area, Athens Area and Northern Tioga school districts (among the 19 served by BLaST), and were joined by local dignitaries in a celebratory parade.
“With a mission to empower children with disabilities to live life to the fullest, Variety the Children’s Charity provides life-changing mobility and communication equipment to ensure our most vulnerable kids are no longer left out, behind or excluded,” read a brochure available at the event.
“Simply, we’re helping kids be kids.”
“A Shot in the Dark”
That night, in conjunction with BLaST’s Deaf-Blind Resource Team, the college hosted a showing of “A Shot in the Dark,” a documentary film about Anthony Ferraro, a blind wrestler from St. John Vianney High School, and his inspirational pursuit of a New Jersey state championship.
The film was introduced by Steinbacher-Reed and her husband, parents of a Williamsport Area High School wrestler; and Dana Vermilya from the resource team.
After the screening in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium, Ferraro sat for a Q&A with attendees – including a number of up-and-coming athletes who were readily encouraged by the unassuming movie star.
“Who is the best wrestler ever?” a young man asked.
“Are you a wrestler?” came the response.
“Then I’m talking with him.” (Ferraro conceded, though, that the legendary Dan Gable – a national champion, Olympic medalist and coach – was “a close second.”)
Ferraro was joined on stage by moderator Jeff Pelly, a BLaST educational consultant, and in the audience by wife Kelly and service dog Miss Delta Blues (a reflection of his love of music).
Other audience queries ranged from his favorite skateboarding trick … to the artists on his playlist … to his grueling daily training regimen … to advice for parents of wrestlers and special-needs children alike. And echoing through his answers was a distinctive voice: a voice of experience, maturity, wisdom and optimism.
“I wasn’t always resilient,” the near-28-year-old admitted, a fact borne out by the genuinely raw emotion that was captured on film. “But I’ve learned that the worst things always happen before the best things. So don’t give up.”
He closed by observing that, all around the world, there are people in wheelchairs, people with multiple disabilities, who are living their lives without complaint.
“And then there are people at home saying, ‘Life’s not fair,’ making excuse after excuse. So who really has the disability?” he asked. “The only disability is a bad attitude.”
Ferraro returned to the ACC on Wednesday as the keynoter for the 2023 Transition Conference, a collaboration of BLaST and Penn College’s Disability and Access Resources.
The event was open to special education students in grades 10-12 as well as parents, guardians and other interested parties residing in Bradford, Clinton, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties. Centered around the pathways of postsecondary education and training, employment, and community engagement, the conference featured a full schedule of beneficial speakers and breakout sessions.
Sponsors of the event, held on campus since 2017, were First Community Foundation Partnership, the Mattie family, and the Steinbacher, Goodall & Yurchak law firm.