Cutbacks to close Western Pennsylvania camp for disabled
Every summer, 7-year-old Jack McGill looked forward to weeks of arts, crafts and trips to the park, pool and other fun places through summer camp.
His mother, Shawn, looked forward to knowing her son, who has high-functioning autism, was enjoying himself in a safe environment surrounded by people who understood him.
This summer, Jack likely won't attend camp. State funding cuts forced InVision Human Services, an Uptown-based nonprofit specializing in programs for people with special needs, to cancel it unless other funding materializes.
"I try to get him involved in the community as much as possible," said Shawn McGill, 35, of Stanton Heights, who is a manager of clinical consulting with InVision. "Kids with disabilities want to have normal, fun summers."
Providers of summer camps for the disabled are faced with tough choices as government funding dries up.
Gov. Tom Corbett's 2012-13 budget proposes 20 percent reductions — saving $168 million — for seven line items that include money for intellectual disabilities and behavioral health services. The line items would then be consolidated into one block grant for counties to distribute at their discretion.
In November the state Department of Public Welfare reduced reimbursement rates by 6 percent for agencies such as InVision.
"Providers of all sizes are having to look at things like summer camp realistically and ask, 'Can we continue to provide these?' " said Gabrielle Sedor, spokeswoman for the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disabilities. "Summer camps are really just the beginning of what we're going to see.
"Even though everyone told us, 'If you thought last year was bad, this year is going to be worse,' I still think the level of cuts took us all aback. Yes, times are tight, but if you say something is a priority like serving those most in need, you find the money."
Kelli Roberts, spokeswoman for the governor, said the block grant system would provide counties with the "flexibility and local control over their human services funding that they have been requesting for years."
"This approach allows for some operational and administrative savings ... that can be driven back into direct services," she said.
While InVision is the only agency that told the Tribune-Review it was cancelling its camp, others could be cutting wages and reducing staff, said Sedor.
"Providers might be able to continue offering programs like summer camps by charging for them, but I'm not sure that would be realistic for families already struggling," she said.
"There might be private grants, donations or other funding sources to look to. Unfortunately, discontinuing summer camps could be the price an organization has to pay to ensure they are able to continue providing other services mandated in the individual service plans of the people they support."
Ruth Siegfried, InVision's executive director, sent a letter to families and camp staff explaining that fees have never been enough to cover costs.
"However, InVision believes so strongly in the concept of the community-based activity camp that we have continued despite a budget shortfall of tens of thousands of dollars each year," reads the letter.
Until now. The agency, which has an annual budget of about $23 million, lost around $120,000 on the camp last year alone.
Jack McGill, who has high-functioning autism, is devastated the camp won't be happening this summer, said his mother. She's having difficulty finding something else for him.
"I'm looking and looking and looking," she said. "I've not found anything appropriate or affordable."
The InVision camp, held during multiple two- and three-week sessions at three locations in Western Pennsylvania, served about 200 kids, Siegfried said, and employed 60 people, mostly teachers from local school districts.
The camp included arts and crafts and frequent outings to places like public pools, parks and Kennywood.
Siegfried calls the rate cuts "phenomenally harsh." In addition to the camp's apparent demise, they resulted in the elimination of four vacant positions at the agency. Executive staff took pay cuts, and the agency froze all wages.
Siegfried plans to appeal to foundations and other funding sources to salvage the camp, if not for this year then for summer 2013.
"I haven't given up entirely," she said.
Sedor urges parents to "get mad, get vocal."
"Contact your legislator, your governor, your neighbor who has connections," she said. "Tell them, 'I'm a real person. This is impacting me and my family.' "
Show commenting policy
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.
- Authorities recover rifle used to kill Westmoreland police officer
- Kane turns to former Maryland attorney general to lead porn email probe
- Chicago mayor fires police chief in wake of video release
- Starkey: Tomlin lived in his fears
- Founder of Z&M Cycle Sales in Hempfield killed in Florida motorcycle crash
- 2,200 union employees of ATI lose coverage
- Steelers receiver Wheaton takes advantage of opportunity in breakout game
- Film session: Long shots dotted Steelers’ passing game
- Slain St. Clair officer walked into ‘worst nightmare’ for police
- Woman gets probation in deadly shooting outside Pittsburgh bar
- Increasing player salaries pinch financial flexibility of Pirates