Behind long-serving leader, CLASS improves lives of disabled
Growing up in McKees Rocks, Al Condeluci didn't like it when people teased his cousin.
“It was frustrating, and it made me angry that people would immediately dismiss Carrie because of her having Down syndrome,” said Condeluci, 64.
A half-century later, he has devoted himself to improving the lives of people with disabilities, having spent 40 years at Community Living and Support Services, or CLASS, as an attendant, caseworker, advocate, planner, program director and now CEO.
A winner of the organization's Community Heroes Award, he is supervising the group's gradual move from its home in Oakland to a headquarters in Swissvale. The move should be complete by spring.
“He's touched people's lives over the years, helping people get homes in the community, jobs in the community and be full participating members,” said Guy Caruso, Western Pennsylvania coordinator of Temple University's Office of Disabilities.
Condeluci lives across the street from the house where he grew up. He believes people with disabilities benefit from being connected to family and community. His cousin, Carrie Condeluci, lived into her 50s, and he credits her close family and community support network with boosting her quality of life. Condeluci saw what happened to his late father, Sinbad, editor of the former McKees Rocks Gazette, who isolated himself after developing the tremors and stooping gait of Parkinson's disease.
“I knew right then that there must be a place for everybody in the greater community,” he said.
CLASS helps people with disabilities do daily chores such as getting dressed, balancing a checkbook or shopping for groceries.
Dori Ortman of Hampton became familiar with Condeluci and CLASS about 10 years ago, when her daughter Emily, who has Down syndrome, was playing soccer and taking dance classes. Down syndrome, or trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder caused by the presence of a third chromosome 21. It can cause growth delays and affect facial characteristics and intellect.
The workers with CLASS provided special training to the soccer staff and suggested Ortman's family consider sending Emily, now 13, to the Special Olympics or a similar program.
“When these kids are older, they just can't be in a society with other people with disabilities,” Ortman said. “They have to function with people without disabilities and, perhaps more importantly, people without disabilities need to be accepting of people with disabilities.”
Ortman, who works part time for CLASS, credits Condeluci with helping her develop that philosophy.
“It's always about making sure they're in their community connecting to other kids and everyone is accepting of each other,” she said.
Bill Zlatos is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or email@example.com.