Prom gowns and jewelry to be sold for nonprofit

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:54 a.m.

Girls hoping to save money on prom gowns and formal wear will have a chance to snag a deal while helping a worthy cause during a sale in Plumcreek Township this weekend.

The two-day prom gown and jewelry sale in the Whitesburg United Methodist Church along Route 422 will offer a selection of glitzy gowns for $50 each — some with original price tags marked at $300.

“Maybe a girl has been asked to the prom, but her family can't financially afford it,” said Linda Hayes, board chairwoman of church. “And it's helping with a wonderful mission — to help employ those with special needs as well as wounded warriors.”

That is the mission of the nonprofit organization The Celebration of Life, which is sponsoring the sale to raise money to develop a vocational and residential pilot program in the Johnstown area for adults with developmental and physical disabilities.

They are hoping to raise $100,000 to buy six acres within the year to develop aquaponic greenhouses, which use water from fish ponds to fertilize produce. The parcel is part of 16 acres that includes a house, greenhouse and barn the group ultimately hopes to purchase in the Johnstown area. The workers with disabilities would be able to work the farm with the help of mentors and volunteers to produce organic vegetables to eat and sell, The Celebration of Life President Tina Rusiski said.

A similar plan to develop such a farm several years ago in Allegheny County fell through when the property owners withdrew from the deal. Now that The Celebration of Life has found another location, the nonprofit is hoping to draw support from the surrounding areas of Indiana and Armstrong counties.

Rusiski said part of The Celebration of Life's plan is to employ service veterans who would mentor the clients. The goal is to develop a system where area professionals donate a salary for a veteran's time working at the proposed The Celebration of Life campus, Rusiski said.

Rusiski is an enthusiastic advocate for people with special needs and said The Celebration of Life was founded by 15 people who all have a family member with a physical or developmental disability.

“It's such a heartwarming tonic to be around them,” she said of those with special needs. “They truly know how to celebrate life.”

Rusiski knows this-hand from being close to her developmentally challenged Aunt Peg when she was younger.

“She was my best playmate growing up,” she said. “She was my greatest protector. I was a voracious reader and even though she couldn't read, she walked with me and helped me carry my library books. I felt sorry for people who didn't have an Aunt Peg.”

Rusiski said she hopes fundraisers like the prom dress sale help spread the word about what The Celebration of Life is hoping to achieve.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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