ShareThis Page

Teen transforms room at St. Richard Church

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Ava Carignan and her service dog, Oliver, in the newly renovated space at St. Richard.
Submitted
Ava Carignan and her service dog, Oliver, in the newly renovated space at St. Richard.
Ava Carignan and her service dog, Oliver, in the newly renovated space at St. Richard.
Submitted
Ava Carignan and her service dog, Oliver, in the newly renovated space at St. Richard.

Thanks to the efforts of one area Girl Scout, individuals with autism now have a calm and prayerful place to worship at St. Richard Catholic Church in Gibsonia.

Being on the spectrum herself, Ava Carignan, 14, recognized an opportunity to transform what was once an empty room — except for some chairs — into a space that would be comfortable for those who find the lighting, bright colors, sounds and smells of Mass while seated in the nave to be challenging. She chose the project for her Girl Scout Silver Award and finished in September.

“Sometimes the stuff out there (in the sanctuary) can bother people who have that disability,” said Carignan, of McCandless, who is a freshman at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and a member of Troop 50460. “This room helps them get away from all that and still be part of Mass and be with their family.”

Carignan got the idea after she got her service dog, Oliver, and she and her family starting sitting in the room during Mass to help him get used to the setting. Typically used by parents of fussy children, the space was stark and held just two rows of chairs facing the windows to the sanctuary.

“I noticed that it wasn't very prayerful,” Carignan said. “It was just an empty room. I thought the church could use a place that was autism-friendly and more prayerful. That's where I got the idea.”

Carignan and her parents started last fall by consulting with the church priest, maintenance manager and Wesley Family Services to think of ways to make the space autism-friendly while keeping it appropriate for church.

They began the actual work after school ended last year. With the assistance of her family, Carignan painted the room and then painted Bible verses and prayers on the walls. They replaced the old window blinds with a cordless variety to make it safer for kids, and went to the Diocese warehouse and found kneelers to place in front of the windows. They added electrical outlet covers with the image of Mary, a small holy water font and a bookcase that holds not only hymnals and Bibles but also fidget toys, weighted bean bags and other objects the kids can use when needed. She also took photos of different parts of the church and items used during Mass and created a photo book for kids describing each one's purpose called, “Getting to Know God's House. ...Or What is All This Stuff?”

The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest a cadette can earn and requires 50 hours of work. Carignan put in more than 60.

Coleen Carignan said her daughter's idea was good not only for the award but also for the church.

“It was a space that needed a makeover,” Coleen Carignan said. “Part of the award was the project had to be sustainable, so something that lasted beyond the project itself and this is something people will be able to use for a long time.”

Karen Price is a Tribune-Review contributor.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.