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Community Options has quietly helped disabled people for 22 years

February 9, 2017 | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette online article | Article.pdf

Michael Perret, left, and Philip Wilsher watch TV while two Community Options employees chat in the background at their home Wednesday in Baldwin.

Michael Perret, left, and Philip Wilsher watch TV while two Community Options employees chat in the background at their home Wednesday in Baldwin.

Community Options Inc. is not Pittsburgh’s best known nonprofit.

But its services are invaluable in providing home and employment support for 100 people with severe intellectual disabilities, and its only fundraiser for the year is Saturday — the “Cupid’s Chase” 5K run along the Riverwalk on the North Shore.

Run proceeds will support one of its most important projects: Buying or leasing homes for its clients. Community Options already owns 16 homes and leases another seven in Allegheny and Washington counties, and it hopes to add two more this year.

“We do a lot of work every day in the community,” said Bridget Haney, executive director of the Pittsburgh branch since its founding in 1995, “so it’s good that folks don’t know we’re around because that means our homes blend into the community, which is one of our goals.”

With an annual budget of about $10 million — most of it from state and federal government sources that is funneled through Allegheny County — Community Options helps 53 people live in its 23 homes, and helps another 50 people with employment support.

Because of the severe disabilities their clients deal with, all of Community Option’s homes are staffed 24 hours a day unless the residents are working. In all, the organization has about 300 full-time employees.

The organization’s work “is very important because the people they deal with have significant challenges in their life, whether they are physical challenges or intellectual challenges,” said Don Clark, deputy director of Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services’ Office of Intellectual Disabilities.

Despite the work that Community Options and other local providers do, though, Mr. Clark said there is still a great unmet need in Allegheny County.

“There just isn’t enough money to provide for all of those in need,” he said. “We have 300-plus people on an emergency waiting list, which means they need services in the next six months.”

In the absence of enough funding, Community Options and other providers try to work with “non-paid support,” Mr. Clark said.

“We try to build up the non-paid support — friends, families, neighbors — to help them until the money comes around,” he said.

To try to cut into that need, for the last six years, Community Options has run road races at each of its 33 offices nationwide to try to raise money.

So far, the races have raised about $700,000 from entry fees and donations. One added highlight this year for the Pittsburgh race is the addition of Joe Klimchak as emcee (who will also be running). He has been the in-game host at PNC Park for the past 12 years, hosting pre-game ceremonies on the field and between innings, such as “Spot the Cow,” and the “Beat the Bucco.”

The race begins at 10 a.m. Saturday with an out-and-back course along the Riverwalk. The entry fee is $40 the day of the race, or you can make a direct donation to Community Options.

Register for the race or make a donation here.