Matthew Brace

Matthew Brace

To celebrate his 17th birthday, Matthew Brace was looking forward to a visit to his favorite restaurant.

“He loves Chuck E. Cheese, so we were going to go to Chuck E. Cheese and have a party,” his mother, Pam, said. “We had to postpone it, so he was all bummed. Then I felt really bad, and it thought, oh, what can we do?”

Matthew, a Bethel Park High School student, is autistic. All the closures and other disruptions to daily life caused by COVID-19, Pam said, represent the easiest concepts for him to understand.

The day before his birthday, she had an idea for how to make the Chuck E. Cheese-less occasion a nonetheless special one for Matthew.

“He loves police cars,” she said, and so she decided to contact the Bethel Park department about the possibility of having an officer drive a cruiser past the house and acknowledge her son.

Pam’s mail came to the attention of Officer Sean Gorman, a frequent participant in community-related activities.

“I decided to make some texts and phone calls to other agencies, and it was great,” he said. “Everybody was immediately on board with sending people. I was very, very pleased and impressed with how many people came out.”

The result was a parade of sorts making its way along the Braces’ street, with police cars, fire trucks and emergency vehicles flashing their lights in honor of Matthew. In addition to Bethel Park police and the volunteer fire company were representatives from Tri-Community South EMS; Allegheny County, Mt. Lebanon and Castle Shannon police; and firefighters and police in Upper St. Clair.

“I think it was just as enjoyable for us as it was for him, with everything going on,” Gorman said. “It was a nice break from some of the doom and gloom that we hear about every day.”

For Matthew, the celebration served as a substantial pick-me-up.

“He’s sad that he’s not in school, because he likes that structure and routine, and he misses his friends and stuff like that,” his mother said. “So I thought, this would be a great way to brighten his day.

And I never in a million years thought it would turn out the way it did. It was amazing.”

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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