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Woodlands fills recreation void

About the Woodlands

The complex began as a camp for underprivileged and orphaned children in 1937 run by founder the Rev. Lawrence A. O'Connell, a Catholic priest.

In 1944, the Variety Club of Pittsburgh became the owner, and continued the original mission.

In 1985, The Spina Bifida Association of Western Pennsylvania leased the land for summer and developmental programs for children with spina bifida. Shortly afterward, the property's name was changed to the Woodlands.

In 1998, the nonprofit Woodlands Foundation Inc. was formed and took over management of the property. The Spina Bifida Association still provides service to families and individuals with spina bifida on the property.

Source: The Woodlands

Wednesday, May 14, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Tess Tripodi teed off like a pro on a warm day this week.

Dressed like a golf pro in a pink top, black sports skirt, multicolored socks and black shoes, she hit her mark on Tuesday.

“I like to swing the clubs,” said Tripodi, 32, a Moon resident who was participating in a weekly golf program at the Woodlands in Bradford Woods.

Tripodi, who has cerebral palsy, is among 8,000 disabled or chronically ill people whom the Woodlands served last year in residential and nonresidential programs.

The nonprofit owns a 32-acre, fully accessible property that offers a range of adapted recreational and therapeutic opportunities for children and adults with disabilities or chronic illnesses, spokesman Brian Leach said.

Golf is a popular sport there. The Woodlands held its first tournament, and its first in which its golf program members participated, on Saturday.

“It really is unique, not only to the greater Pittsburgh region but truly to the country,” Leach said of the Woodlands complex.

There are other, similar centers across the country, but the Woodlands' is unique in its offerings, such as the fully adapted wellness center with an indoor therapeutic heated pool, 48-bed lodge, dining hall, creative arts and computer center, activity center, summer camps, sports court, nature trail, amphitheater and a par-3 adapted golf course, he said.

The golf course, for example, is wheelchair accessible and features three adapted holes that are shorter than those on traditional golf courses.

Each green has three holes, so that golfers can play a nine-hole round using different pin placements. Some players use special clubs that can be held more easily by people who have dexterity challenges, golf instructor Tracy Brothers said.

“They take the game very seriously,” she said while teaching an advanced golf group.

Even with the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Woodlands is unique compared to public recreation places because of the number of handicapped-accessible programs offered, the level of accessibility provided and the social aspects of its programming, said Joseph Schreiber, president of the Alexandria, Va.-based American Physical Therapy Association's pediatric section and an associate professor of physical therapy at Chatham University.

“That's really a significant challenge for those individuals — to find accessible and appropriate fitness and recreational opportunities within the community,” he said.

Tripodi, who lives in a group home, participates in monthly weekend retreats at the Woodlands, said her mother, Nadine Tripodi, 60, of Butler.

“I think (coming here) gives her a chance to be independent, to meet more friends, and they have a lot of activities. Always busy when they're here,” she said.

Base membership for the Woodlands' Wellness Center is $120 for an individual and $240 for a family. Fees can be offset by members' health insurance and/or scholarships, Leach said.

The Woodlands' annual operating budget is about $1.9 million. Its support includes funding from grants, corporate and individual giving and fundraisers, he said.

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




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