February 5, 2020 | triblive.com
Staying fit is important to Stephen Johnson of Jeannette, who relies on a local nonprofit to take him to the gym for regular workouts.
New Jersey-based Community Options, which has a branch office in Hempfield, also takes Johnson to medical appointments, to his job helping with housekeeping tasks at a hotel and on community outings.
“I like to go to Twin Lakes when it’s nice outside in the spring,” Johnson said of the Westmoreland County park east of Greensburg.
Johnson is among about 40 local Community Options clients — adults with intellectual disabilities — who stand to benefit from the organization’s annual fundraising race: Cupid’s Chase, a 5K that will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Latrobe. Similar runs, by other Community Options offices, will kick off at the same time in Pittsburgh and Butler County.
Stephen Hall, executive director of Community Options in Hempfield, explained the money the race raises through pledges and sponsors is turned over to the organization’s national headquarters to be allocated among regional programs in 10 states. Among other things, the money can help pay for Community Options staff to accompany clients such as Johnson on outings.
“I love seeing the clients’ faces when they have a wonderful day, with the new experiences they get to have,” Hall said.
By Monday, with five days to go until the race, there were 45 runners signed up for the Latrobe event, putting it on pace to match the 70 or so participants in the 2019 run. Hall noted many runners sign up shortly before the race.
With about $5,500 in pledges, Community Options was closing in on this year’s fundraising goal of $7,000. “We’ve raised almost $1,500 more than we did last year already, which is phenomenal,” Hall said.
Timed for the first full weekend in February, in advance of Valentine’s Day, the Cupid’s Chase can run into foul weather, including 6-degree temperatures last year, but that hasn’t stopped runners.
In 2016, Hall recalled, “There was an ice storm the night before the race, but the City of Latrobe did a good job of getting out and salting for us.” City police also block traffic to protect runners along the event route, he said.
Community Options in Hempfield offers a residential program for its clients, beginning as early as age 18. Its 21 dwellings include 13 in Westmoreland County and others in Indiana and Armstrong counties.
Services also are offered for some clients who continue to live with their families.
Through the organization’s supported work program, clients who are able can perform tasks for businesses and organizations in the community.
Jeffrey Minkovich of Unity, who heads community integration and networking efforts at the local Community Options office, found work placements for some of the organization’s clients at businesses that are members of the Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, where he serves on the board of directors.
“Our individuals will go to some of our chamber members and perform duties that these businesses don’t have to use payroll individuals to do,” Minkovich said, citing as an example a young woman who visits Gutchess Hardwoods in Latrobe once a week to help with tasks such as shredding office paper.
“She absolutely loves it, and she’s made so many relationships,” he said. “That’s what our mission is all about.”