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Shining Arrow nears fourth decade, seeks to expand

| Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Hills Progress
Rosemary Gallagher and James Pegnato (center front) dance during the Shining Arrow dinner dance on Friday, July 26, 2013.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Hills Progress
Jessica Herrman and Melissa Hernandez dance to the music at Shinning Arrow's dinner dance, held Friday, July 26, 2013, in Penn Hills. Jim Belz is on the far right.

On Friday evenings, teens and adults with developmental challenges gather at the James G. Fedele Shining Arrow Building on Frankstown Road.

Sometimes it's for bingo, sometimes crafts, occasionally a special dinner. But the goal always is a social atmosphere and a good time.

The nonprofit Shining Arrow Association has been working with developmentally challenged residents of the east suburbs since 1975.

Marietta DelleFemine of Penn Hills began volunteering at Shining Arrow in 1977, at age 14.

“My parents were involved with it a long time ago,” DelleFemine said. “I started as a volunteer, then I was a counselor, then an assistant director.”

Today, DelleFemine runs the group's Friday evening programs, and Shining Arrow officials hope to expand their reach.

“When Shining Arrow first started, we met with kids ages 5 to 14 at one location and older kids and adults at another location,” DelleFemine said. “We also had a six-week day camp during the summer. We had 100 to 120 participants back in the late '70s when I was a volunteer.”

Over the past few years, summer day camp attendance dwindled to single digits and the program was halted.

DelleFemine said that while Shining Arrow typically drew from throughout the east suburbs, the majority of people who now attend regularly are from Penn Hills and Plum.

The Friday evening program is still going strong, however.

“It gives our folks a chance to hang out together, to continue learning different life skills,” DelleFemine said. “We'll do cooking with them, or we'll do crafts or try to do things for others.”

The group has made Veteran's Day cards for military personnel, performed Christmas carols and made Christmas cards for Penn Hills seniors.

“But it's also just an opportunity for them to get together and hang out,” she said.

The Friday evening programs take place from the end of October to mid-May, with a short summer session from mid-June to the end of July.

Shining Arrow also has partnerships with the Penn Hills School District, the municipal parks and recreation department, the Milestone Center and South-Side-based Achieva, which operates the “Arc” groups (Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, Arc of Westmoreland, etc.), allowing their programming to expand its reach.

DelleFemine and Shining Arrow Board President Tony Pegnato would like to continue expansion and bring the program back to its previous work with younger children.

Pegnato has a son with special needs, now in his 40s, who has been involved with the program since age 9.

“Most kids are in their late teens, and it ranges up to folks in their 60s,” Pegnato said. “We've been trying to get a younger group for a one-night-a-week program. But we need a director and some volunteers.

“Years ago, when they started this, the kid up the street would volunteer, then his friends would come down too, but today you don't get that.”

For DelleFemine, the connection is personal. “I've grown up with so many of (the program's participants), and to give them an opportunity to be successful is just a lot of fun.

“It's like my extended family.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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