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JoJo’s Hug Project helps provide comfort in emergencies

Being involved in a vehicle accident can certainly be an alarming proposition for any adult.

Now think of a child in the same situation, someone who might not have much of an understanding about what is occurring, and the fright that he or she is likely to experience.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

JoJo Jaskulski displays an example of the items she makes for sale to raise money for stuffed animals.

In such cases, it’s JoJo Jaskulski to the rescue.

“I raise money to buy stuffed animals to give to first responders,” she said, which in turn they can “give to kids for comfort.”

The Canonsburg-area youngster and her mother, Melanie, recently visited a McMurray Rotary Club meeting in Peters Township to talk about JoJo’s Hug Project, which has distributed more than 300 of the toys since last summer.

In appreciation of their efforts, club members presented JoJo with a stack of gift cards.

“We want you to use those to get some more great gifts to the kids who need them most,” David Wylie, 2019-20 club president, told her.

The donation adds to JoJo’s fundraising through the selling of items she makes: small charms, necklaces, bracelets and key chains, along with do-it-yourself lip balm from the wax of crayons.

She has helpers, too, such as friends who are joining her for an Aug. 4 bracelet-making class, with North Strabane Township Fire Department offering space for the event.

The money goes toward purchasing the likes of plush Squishmallows, Disney Cuddleez and Ty Beanie Babies, with the intent of them providing a calming effect during emergencies.

“These kids are pretty scared when they get her stuffed animals,” Melanie Jaskulski said. “There have been domestic calls with a child there, search warrants served, car accidents, even DUIs with children in the car.”

Along with area police and fire departments, JoJo’s Hug Project also has made donations to Washington Hospital emergency room, local food pantries and other locations where youngsters may be in need of comfort.

The Jaskulskis’ efforts dovetail with the 2019-20 project of Rotary International District 7305.

Al DeLucia, a McMurray member and district governor-elect, described Rotary Cares, a program for distributing stickers, to be placed on children’s safety seats, that contain emergency contact information.

Rotarians also are educating first responders about the program.

“They will know to look on the back of the child’s car seat about information on whom to contact if the adults in the front seat or anywhere in the car are unresponsive,” DeLucia said.

In another measure promoting the safety of children, McMurray Rotary Club presented Capt. Jennifer Ford of Peters Township police with a $500 donation toward the department’s free IdentiKid Program.

“At events around the township, we will offer that service to fingerprint and photograph the child,” Ford said, adding that parents will receive cards on which those images are printed. “If something happens to a child, you have information that you can give to the police so that they have a description.”

For more information JoJo’s Hug Project, visit www.facebook.com/JoJoHugProject.

Harry Funk / Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Emilie Angel, left, joins friend JoJo Jaskulski at a McMurray Rotary Club meeting at Atria’s Restaurant in Peters Township.


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‘It has to be fun’: Instructor livens up Active@AnyAge at YMCA in Bethel Park

It might be natural to wonder how “chairobics,” doing exercises while pretty much remaining seated, can be an effective form of exercise.

“My exercises look easy,” fitness instructor Amy Taylor said. “But when you sit down and actually try to do it …”

Fifty or so minutes after starting one of her Active@AnyAge group classes at the Spencer Family YMCA in Bethel Park, it becomes apparent it’s one heck of a workout.

And it’s a hoot, to boot.

“It has to be fun. If fitness isn’t fun, the students aren’t going to want to show up, so we have a good time in class,” Taylor said. “They all love Miss Amy, because I’m a goofball. I don’t take myself seriously.”

Her frequent jokes – “They’re all bad,” she admitted – help lighten the mood and make those 50 minutes seem to pass quickly, all the while endearing herself to her students.

“She is awesome. She puts a smile on your face,” Bridgeville resident Ed Forster said, pointing out a key component to the effectiveness of the sessions: “She aggravates you at the right times.”

That’s because Taylor takes fitness seriously. An instructor for 15 years, much of her work is with older adults, and she has developed Active@AnyAge exercises to address what she has seen to be people’s needs.

“Everyone is taking class for a different reason,” she said. “Maybe it’s for mobility, maybe for hand-eye coordination. Maybe they want to increase strength. Maybe they want an easier time getting up out of the chair.”

Some students are recovering from debilitating conditions, such as Carol Forster, Ed’s wife, who has had four strokes and a mild heart attack.

“I couldn’t walk steps. I couldn’t go down steps at all. I was taking the elevator for a while, but I worked my way up to walking,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight, too. I wear juniors now.”

Bethel Park resident Sueann Watson DeFurio, a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, started working out with Taylor as her personal training to gain endurance and range of movement. These days, she takes water aerobics classes led by Taylor, along with Active@AnyAge.

“I have been able to do so much more physically. I’m a big gardener. I am able to go out and bend the right way, and do all the things that I love doing. She helped me through all that,” Watson DeFurio said.

Active@AnyAge classes are offered each day of the week at the Spencer Family YMCA, with Friday’s session followed by a social hour.

“We’ll have coffee and doughnuts – or vegetables and granola bars, if you prefer – and we’ll just talk about life,” Taylor said. “I know them all by name. I know all their stories. In my classes, I don’t believe that you should just be a number. I think there should be a personalized aspect.”

Her approach resonates with students.

“It’s such a nice atmosphere,” Betsy Teichman of Bethel Park said. “I know a lot of people who come here, and I’ve met people here who have become friends. It is a social environment.”

An inclusive one, too: Taylor uses sign language in her Active@AnyAge and water aerobics classes to make sure that hearing-impaired people, such as Bethel Park resident Darlene Jury, can participate.

“Amy’s a lot of fun. She explains things in detail,” she said. “She knows what she’s doing and does very good exercises. You feel good when you leave here, not only physically but mentally.”

Juliann Brzozowski, also of Bethel Park, recently participated in her first Active@AnyAge after taking water aerobics sessions with Taylor.

“She is very energetic, a real motivator, and her classes are wonderful,” Brzozowski said. “She makes them very interesting.”

The exercises she leads involve the likes of one- to three-pound weights, elastic stretch bands and balls to complement stretching and movement to provide a workout “from tip to toe,” as Taylor likes to say.

“It’s not just about doing the exercises,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot more than that. It’s the whole experience, so that when they leave class, they feel more able, more positive. They feel better about themselves.”

For more information about Active@AnyAge, contact JoAnn Guilfoil, healthy living director, at 412-227-3806 or jguilfoil@ymcapgh.org.


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Commissioners’ opinions split on amendment to Mt. Lebanon zoning ordinance

A possible amendment to Mt. Lebanon’s zoning ordinance regarding first-floor uses in the township’s central business district is back to square one.

The intent is to create a more vibrant atmosphere by encouraging restaurants and retail as tenants along Washington Road, rather than professional offices and medical facilities.

While four out of five Mt. Lebanon commissioners agreed updating the ordinance could help meet such a goal, they were divided as to how to proceed.

As addressed at the commission’s July 23 discussion session, at issue is whether the presence of offices be subject to conditional use, an approval process that goes through the municipal planning board and ultimately the commission, or is deemed a nonconforming use.

During a previous discussion session, a majority of commissioners agreed to have municipal solicitor Philip Weis draft an amendment incorporating the latter. Under nonconforming use, the zoning hearing board fields requests for variances.

Weis sent the draft, as required, to the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development for review and comment before its presentation to commissioners at the latest discussion session.

At that point, John Bendel and Kelly Fraasch agreed to move forward with the draft toward eventual commission approval, but Craig Grella and Steve Silverman said they favor looking into the option for conditional use.

Steve McLean, commission president, opposes changing the existing ordinance.

“How do we protect ourselves from creating something where we have a lot of vacant first-floor space because viable tenants want to be an office or a medical facility?” he said.

Property owners in the business district have asked similar questions in expressing opposition to limiting certain types of tenants.

“If your goal is to revitalize and have more activity in the community, forcing a vacancy by not allowing an office to go in there does not guarantee you, nor does it facilitate, a restaurant use going in,” said Lori Moran, whose business interests include a company that owns property and rents space along Washington Road, at the commission’s April 23 discussion session. “It means you have a vacancy that’s sitting there.”

In 2018, Mt. Lebanon Planning Board voted to recommend an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would “make offices and medical clinic/medical facilities a conditional use in street-facing storefronts on the first floor within the central business district,” according to minutes from the meeting.

The Mt. Lebanon Partnership, a nonprofit entity promoting economic growth, and the municipal Economic Development Council have expressed support for designating the uses as nonconforming.

Weis plans to work on drafts incorporating both options to present to commissioners for comparison. Officials also plan to consult with interested parties, including landlords, regarding the details.

Under Pennsylvania law, nonconforming uses are allowed to continue in the same capacities following ordinance revisions.

“Essentially, they’ll continue until they’re abandoned. There are court cases with argument over when the actual moment of abandonment occurs,” Weis told commissioners. “It depends on all the facts and circumstances of the individual case. It requires more than just passage of time.”