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N.Y. nonprofit to send Shaler woman, family to visit 'American Idol'

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:43 a.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Ashley Urso, 22, of Shaler, shows off some of her 'American Idol' paraphernalia on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, in her home. Urso, a huge fan of the show, and her family will travel to Los Angeles to attend a taping.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Ashley Urso of Shaler, her brother, Jan, 17, and their parents, Cindy and Jan, will be travel to Los Angeles to attend a taping of 'American Idol.'

Ashley Urso loves watching the performances on her favorite TV show, Fox's “American Idol.”

She'll see the show live this month, courtesy of a nonprofit that's providing a five-day trip to Los Angeles for the Shaler woman and her family.

“I was really excited,” Urso, 22, who has Down syndrome, said of finding out about the trip. “Because since I was a young girl, I loved watching ‘American Idol.' ”

Urso hasn't missed an episode of the singing competition since it debuted in 2002, said her mother, Cindy Urso, 43.

“We actually have to rearrange our schedule around this crazy show,” she said.

Ashley's brother, Jan, 17, and father, Jan Jr., 45, also will head to Los Angeles.

The family is able to take the trip because Cindy Urso discovered a Tillson, N.Y.-based nonprofit organization, Gifts from the Heart for Downs, through Facebook. The organization grants wishes to people with Down syndrome who don't qualify for wishes from other organizations.

About a year ago, Cindy contacted the founder, Kim Adams, who told her to submit an application.

About two weeks ago, Adams' daughter Judy, 14, who also has Down syndrome, called Ashley to tell her that she and her family would be going to the set of “Idol.”

“She just started shaking,” Cindy said of her daughter. “She had tears in her eyes.”

During the visit, Ashley will meet the judges and contestants and attend a rehearsal and live taping. She'll even be able to sit in the judges' chairs, Adams said.

“It's way more than we expected it to be,” Cindy Urso said.

A Fox spokeswoman confirmed that Ashley Urso will attend a rehearsal and taping, but wouldn't provide other details.

Adams, who adopted two children with Down syndrome, founded Gifts from the Heart for Downs in January 2010. The nonprofit has granted wishes such as a trip for an Ohio man and his family to visit actor John Travolta; front-row seats to Miley Cyrus concerts; and gifts such as iPads, adaptive tricycles and wheelchair strollers.

The nonprofit pays for some of its wish-granting through fundraising, but Adams pays for some expenses herself. Last year, the nonprofit received $25,000 in donations, including in-kind gifts.

The Ursos' trip will cost about $5,000, including airfare, hotel and meals, Adams said.

Appreciative of the work Adams does, the Ursos are helping out in the Pittsburgh area.

They have placed containers in local businesses to collect donations for Judy's Dimes for Downs fundraiser. So far, they have collected 112,541 dimes.

On Monday, Ashley talked excitedly about her trip while displaying her “Idol” memorabilia, including a word-search book, a poster she made for former contestant David Archuleta for his appearance at an “American Idols Live! Tour” concert in Pittsburgh in 2008, and a copy of former judge Kara DioGuardi's memoir.

She hopes to meet her favorite contestant from this season, Angie Miller, who plays piano and has significant hearing loss.

“She writes her own songs,” Ashley said.

A 2008 Shaler Area High School graduate and 2011 recipient of a certificate from the life-skills program at Duquesne University's secondary school, Ashley attends a day program through Pennsylvania Connecting Communities where she receives academic lessons, exercise and social support.

She hopes to get a job in fashion retailing or music, her mom said.

“She just always sees the positive in everything. Nothing has ever held her back,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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