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YMCA’s Camp AIM continues its half-century legacy

Some youngsters are natural chatterboxes.

Others tend to be reticent, including some with special needs who attend YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh’s Camp AIM.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Raquel Sappie, left, and Siobhan Moffatt participate in Camp AIM’s art program, directed by Austin Almendarez.

“Maybe throughout camp time, they only speak a few words to their counselor,” director of music Stephen Santa said. “But then they can get onstage and they can take a microphone and sing a whole song. So sometimes the music can really bring personalities to the forefront.”

The Bethel Park native is among the core of loyal staff members – this is his 18th summer with Camp AIM, starting when he was a teenage counselor – who serve children and young adults who have physical, cognitive, emotional, social and communication challenges.

“The whole goal of the music program at camp is to create a warm, welcoming environment where kids can explore and learn through music,” Santa said.

For Camp AIM administrator Paulette Colonna, the music component fits right in with one of the camp’s primary goals.

“Communication is a big thing of what we do here: how do you communicate appropriately, how do you maintain your self-control when you get angry or when you hear the word ‘no,’” she said.

She has been on board with the camp since 1977, nine years after its founding.

At that point, the YMCA’s South Hills location was on McMurray Road in Upper St. Clair, and the camp took place at Pathfinder School in Bethel Park. Subsequent locations have included St. Thomas More and St. Louise de Marillac churches, Carlynton High School and, for the past two years, Carnegie Elementary School.

Colonna, who lives in Carnegie, was a special education teacher with Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Counselor Gabrielle Gevaudan, a John Carroll University student, with camper Lyeneil Ward

“I wanted something to do in the summer that was still associated with children, but different from school,” she said.

Colonna answered a newspaper advertisement about working as a Camp AIM counselor and the rest is history.

She returned for subsequent summers, taking on other duties until becoming administrator in the mid-1980s.

“As far as the on-site, bottom-line responsible person, that has been me, for quite a while,” she said.

Between 120 and 150 campers from 17 school districts attend each year for three, two-week sessions with programming that includes art, swimming and life skills for living, in addition to music.

Along with crediting Mike Lloyd, YMCA executive director of development, for his substantial support, Colonna is proud to note many staff members return year after year, or even decade after decade.

For example, camp director Tom DiPietro, another retired Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher who lives in Carnegie, has about 40 years with Camp AIM.

“I started here as the nurse. Yeah, I did,” he said to some surprised colleagues. “I was the nurse for the first three years, and then I just moved up the ladder as the ladder opened up.”

He brought his daughter, Noelle, to camp as a counselor when she was 15, and seven years later, she is responsible for compiling information about campers who require extended school years as part of individualized education programs through their home school districts.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Ryan Kelly, left, with counselor Keegan Hitchings, a 2019 Bishop Canevin High School graduate

“I’ve made so many friendships working here, in high school and in college,” she said. “We all stay in touch.”

Working with the camp also got her interested in special education. She is pursuing a master’s degree in applied behavioral analysis at the University of Pittsburgh.

Another Camp AIM staff member whose parent brought him in is Chris Colonna, Paulette’s son and a Carlynton teacher.

“It provides a great experience for our kids,” he said. “For a lot of them, it’s the highlight of their summer. Some of them have been coming here for 10-plus years, so you kind of get to watch them grow up every summer, which is pretty cool.”

Staff members with 20-plus years at the camp include North Allegheny School District employees Tracy Herron, a paraprofessional, and Megan Kelley, who teaches at Marshall Middle School.

“It’s the love for the kids and wanting them to have an awesome summer and great experience,” Herron said about continuing with Camp AIM.

Kelley echoed her sentiments.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Anthony Laird, left, and Lee McDonald with counselor Taylor Stevens, a Washington & Jefferson College student

“This camp can kind of meet all kids’ needs, so it really makes a difference in their lives every summer,” she said.

Samantha Coulter, a learning support teacher in Quaker Valley School District, is an 11-year camp veteran and serves as director of registration and billing.

“I learn more working at camp than I did going through college for special ed,” she said. “It helps everything.”

New this year is Joanne Depoutiloff, a 24-year Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher who teams up with Katie Gibson in the camp’s life skills for living program.

“I’d heard about Camp AIM for many, many years, and I decided this is the year that I wanted to get involved,” Depoutiloff said, explaining her career started in special education. “I wanted to get back to my roots, so here I am.”

For more information, visit

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Campers take a break from rehearsing for Camp AIM's talent show, part of the music program directed by Stephen Santa.

Mt. Lebanon Public Library presents 29th annual Garden Tour

With more than an acre and a half of yard he maintains meticulously, you’d think that John Krolikowski always has had an interest in gardening.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

A fountain enlivens the Krolikowski property.

“No,” he said. “I did it by default. I got the short straw. My wife wouldn’t do it.”

MaryAdele Krolikowski, his wife, doesn’t dispute that fact.

“What I’ve said to everyone who’s asked, ‘You have to talk to John,’” she said.

Participants in the 29th annual Garden Tour benefiting Mt. Lebanon Public Library, scheduled for July 14, will have lots to talk about when they visit the Krolikowski home on Roycroft Avenue, one of eight featured this year.

The expansive property is home to a wide variety of vegetation, highlighted by 95 mature trees that are numbered and identified by species.

“When we moved in, it had been overgrown a bit,” John said. “The backbone of the property was here, with all the stonework and the pathways, but we had to sort of find them.”

Among the early orders of business, he said, was removing dozens of pine trees that had grown to heights of 50 feet or more.

“They had sort of taken over the property,” he said. “You weren’t getting any light underneath.”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

John and MaryAdele Krolikowski with grandchildren, from left, Christopher Sullivan, Ryan Krolikowski and William Sullivan.

These days, depending on the time of year, visitors are likely to see daffodils, rhododendron or Virginia bluebells in bloom, alongside trees including Kousa dogwood, black cherry, sassafras, yew and Japanese maple. Another tree is sugar maple, from which the Krolikowskis make syrup.

“It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon,” John said. “So that’s about all we do.”

At the heart of the property is a stone house constructed in 1938, with an addition built in the 1980s. The Krolikowskis are the third owners, moving there from what John calls “a normal-sized house” elsewhere in Mt. Lebanon.

They decided to buy after their real estate agent told them the house had something to offer,

“This is more house than you’re looking for, but it’s unique,” John recalled the agent saying.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Mark Mortimer enjoy their yard’s fairy garden along with one of his chickens.

A few blocks away, on Ordale Boulevard, the home of Mark and Elizabeth Mortimer has some features that will make their stop on the garden tour a somewhat different experience.

Around back is a fairy garden, full of tiny, colorful homes and smaller-yet accessories that brighten a corner of the yard. And nearby, situated under the 85-year-old house’s rear deck, is Uncle Paul’s Poultry Palace.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Inside Uncle Paul's Poultry Palace at the home of Mark and Elizabeth Mortimer

It seems Paul Thompson, Elizabeth’s uncle, raised chickens and was encouraging the couple to do the same at their previous residence.

“He started sending us all these books when were in Peters Township, and we said, ‘Paul, we can’t have chickens,’” Mark recalled. “Finally, we moved here and he said, ‘OK, I’m going to send you a chicken.’”

And so the Mortimers built a coop for hens that produce plenty of eggs that they are happy to give to folks who enjoy a good breakfast. Protective wiring encloses the coop’s yard, which allows the birds to get exercise without roaming too far and without worries about predators.

“We have read and done a tremendous amount of research about chickens,” Mark said. “When we get everyone here during the garden tour, it’s my hope to show them some things that they might not be aware of. It’s amazing to me what we forget about, like, high school biology. So there’s the whole: Are there roosters in here? How do they lay eggs?”

As for the fairy garden, the Mortimers became interested when their children were young, inspired by Tracy Kane’s 2001 book, “Fairy Houses,” which includes a section on how to build your own.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

The Mortimers’ fairy garden

When they moved to Mt. Lebanon, they brought their garden with them and set it up in the front yard, encouraging parents who walked by to “feel free to come here, you and your kids, and just play,” Mark said.

Today, neighborhood youngsters still are invited to check out the relocated garden.

“It’s about imagination,” Mark explained. “We have fun with it, as adults, having that dialogue with kids and watching them play.”

Tickets for the self-guided garden tour, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 14, are available in advance for $15 at Mt. Lebanon Public Library or Tickets on the day of the tour are $20.

For more information, call 412-531-1912 or email

Got Alt. Milk? Bethel Park resident produces nut-based nondairy beverages

Three years ago, Bethel Park resident Sam Stephan started having some serious digestive issues.

The good news is she discovered the type of diet that allows her to feel pretty much the same as your typical 20-something.

The not-so-good news is, well, the diet.

“Not only is that difficult, because you have to cook everything at home,” she said, “but it also makes you sad, because going out to eat is my favorite thing ever.”

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Asanté Bierria enjoys what a customer has to say at the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Market.

Going out for hot beverages is way up there, too, and one of her favorite venues is Redhawk Coffee in Oakland. She is among the many people who can’t consume dairy products, and so she started making milk from almonds, which she’d take along to Redhawk.

On one visit, she asked if the baristas would “steam this in a drink?”

The baristas did and were suitably impressed.

“Before long, they approached me saying how great this nondairy milk was,” Stephan recalled. “It foamed and performed better than any other brands they offered.”

And so the Redhawk baristas eventually came to a conclusion.

“You should start a business with this,” she recalled of their recommendation, “or at least you should make it so we can use it.”

That was the beginning of Alt. Milk, which Stephan produces and sells through a company she calls Fickle Fox Foods. She makes drinks from coconut, almonds and pecans, unsweetened or flavored with dates, strawberries or dark chocolate.

“It has been a lot of learning, for sure. It kind of started with me having to get the recipes perfect, and testing it out on people,” said the daughter of Mark and Sherry Stephan. “I started with just the unsweetened one, because that was what I needed and I feel like lower sugar can be good for all diets.”

Agreeing wholeheartedly on that score would be Asanté Bierria, who is partnering with Sam this summer in a booth set up Saturday mornings at the Mt. Lebanon Uptown Market. His business is Pure Grub, named for the ingredients, or lack thereof, of the food he serves.

“There’s no dairy, no gluten, no processed sugar,” he said. “We want you to be fueled, balanced and feeling good and sustained.”

Pure Grub’s menu includes what he calls “balls of goodness,” snacks that actually are good for you.

“The Brazil nut is the main ingredient, and the Brazil nut, itself, is a complete protein,” Bierria said.

Other ingredients in the snacks include pepitas, pecan, macadamia and “healthy fat from coconut oil.”

For flavoring, he uses the likes of ginger, cinnamon and cacao, and he offers a “superfood blend” with maca, a Peruvian plant related to broccoli, cabbage and kale; moringa, a tree native to India containing an impressive array of nutrients; and matcha, finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves.

Bierra also flattens the snack balls to make coconut agave ice cream sandwiches.

Having studied at the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, Ore., Bierra has a background of working with the dietary needs of people who have conditions such as gout, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

“Then I realized, this should be for the masses. This shouldn’t be a secret,” he said.

He has a commercial kitchen in Mt. Washington and also operates in a partnership with Brassero Grill in Braddock, pairing the restaurant’s traditional Mexican food with his Cuban-West Indian specialties.

Bierra and Stephan met during events at Pittsburgh Juice Co. in Lawrenceville, and they decided to team up to offer Alt. Milk and Pure Grub, first at the Bloomfield Saturday Market and then in Mt. Lebanon.

“I can do the drink and he can do the food, and everybody’s happy,” Stephan said. “And it’s fun to collaborate with people, too.”

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