ia of the Lehigh Valley is an organization that aids community members with disabilities such as autism.Via provides services such as daycare and training for employment. (Summer Sullivan/ B&W photo)

Via of the Lehigh Valley helps disabled individuals shine


It’s not a charity. It’s a resource — a resource for those with autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, a resource where everyone can make a worthwhile impact on their community and reach their full potential.

Via of the Lehigh Valley, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for people of all ages with various cognitive and physical disabilities to find meaningful employment, community involvement and chances for personal growth and development.

Denise Pioli, the director of community education at Via, will tell you that it’s a place where every incremental achievement is celebrated.

“It’s important to celebrate everything, regardless of what it is,” Pioli said. “Whether it’s remembering to wash your hands or mastering a new job at the prevocational center — it’s so important to help our guys know that they’ve succeeded.”

The fundamentals of these successes are learned at the prevocational and adult training programs, two of Via’s facility-based developmental programs, said Lowell King, director of the prevocational and adult training programs.

Within the prevocational workshop, several consumers busily packaged and assembled Crayola boxes. Along the assembly line, one consumer meticulously folded the cardboard with the distinct green-and-yellow coloring; another placed the colored markers in the same exact order as the box prior and the final consumer stacked the boxes in piles of three. Other consumers sorted through the seemingly bottomless pile of donations of clothing for Via’s thrift shop — another way the organization generates funds to support its consumers.

Chris, a consumer in the prevocational program of two years, put down his work and sheepishly waved at Pioli. He hurriedly approached Pioli and quietly asked if she had received that morning’s email.

Chris and Pioli have a daily email exchange that started upon Chris’s introduction into the program. Of course she read his email.

Pioli said she and Chris exchange emails because it is the easiest way for him to articulate what he is thinking without having to manage other social cues, which she is very willing to do so that his voice is heard during his time at Via.

A large wooden plaque that read “Work hard, be the best you can be” hung over the table where an instructor reviewed the basics of fire safety.

“I work hard. I do, I work hard.” said Bethany, one of the program’s participants, to Pioli, a longtime consumer and participant of the prevocational program. Bethany then extended her right hand to shake Pioli’s, a skill that she was proud to show off.

According to the Via website, the facility-based programs and the adult training program in particular, provide opportunities for consumers to engage in activities like cooking, nutrition, physical exercise and cognitive skills to promote wellness and encourage social interaction.

King said the goal of the facility-based programs is to help consumers develop social and motor skills with instructors to help prepare them to eventually work in their communities.

“We help support our consumers to succeed little by little every day,” King said. “I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that folks even with significant disabilities aren’t able to work in the community. Certainly, with support and training, anybody should be able to maintain a job in the community.”

Anthony Sereta, a program specialist for community employment services said finding employment for the consumers is much more than receiving hourly wages; it’s an outlet for consumers to discover their self-worth, improve their self-esteem and experience community inclusion.

Sereta works alongside Kim, a consumer who has been at Via for more than two years. Quiet and diligent, Kim waved briefly before recognizing that there was more work to be done. After a few words and hellos, Kim hurried back to her desk to organize files in alphabetical order.

Kim has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Sereta said he sees Kim like a daughter and that working with her is not an obstacle, but rather a challenge with the goal of Kim becoming even more independent.

“I love working here; I love helping people with disabilities; I love when Kim discovers she can do something that she didn’t think she could do,” Sereta said. “I like the teaching part of it more than anything.”

In addition to working alongside staff, consumers are given the opportunity to give back to their communities by volunteering at local organizations such as the Lehigh Valley Hospital, Turning Point, Meals on Wheels, the Salvation Army and many more through the community connections program.

“We’re unique in that we’re not just a charitable organization; we’re also helping our guys to give back,” Pioli said.

Aside from the facility-based programs, Via has expanded its efforts to include early intervention programs, programs specifically catered to those with autism and speech therapy programs — all of which require countless hours of support and dedication from Via staff members, Pioli said.

King, who has a commute ranging from one hour to three hours each day, said he is committed to dealing with the drive because of Via’s supportive and creative environment and mission that has continued to resonate with him during his almost 20-year stay at the organization.

“I am blessed to work with the most wonderful people supporting the most wonderful consumers,” Pioli said. “I know that the work we do here has made a difference, even if it’s just tiny differences.”

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