Disability Options Network Touches the Lives of Many in Penn Power’s Service Area
FirstEnergy is privileged to serve more than six million customers across its service area, spanning from Ohio to the Jersey Shore. Nestled in each community are hundreds of unique stories about the residents, businesses and organizations we serve. We provide them with the power and support they depend on each day to continue making a difference in their local communities, and we look forward to sharing their stories with you.
Ten years ago, J.C. Scialabba was refereeing football and basketball in western Pennsylvania and driving to Ohio to volunteer with Boy Scouts in the Mahoning Valley.
Never in a million years did he expect to be in the position he is today – bound to a wheelchair after suffering from severe blood clots in his legs and related heart issues.
“It’s taken me a long time to accept my new reality,” said Scialabba, a New Castle resident who ironically spent the five years leading up to his injuries serving as the primary caregiver for his aunt who was disabled.
“I’m used to being on the other side of this relationship,” he said.
Scialabba’s new outlook on life changed when he started a job at Disability Options Network (DON) Services in 2018. Located in the heart of Penn Power’s service area, this agency provides hundreds of individuals, like Scialabba, with skills and resources to live as independently as they choose across 27 western Pennsylvania counties. It is also the second largest employer in Lawrence County, with 85 percent of its staff being employees with disabilities.
“One of the greatest barriers our consumers face is affordable and accessible housing,” said Court Hower, executive vice president of community resources and development at DON Services. “That’s why we’re creating accessible and affordable housing options for individuals with disabilities, while establishing a more diverse and integrated community here in New Castle.”
DON Services is working in partnership with the Lawrence County Commissioners, Lawrence County Redevelopment Authority, City of New Castle, Penn Power and others to redevelop the community around the 700 block of Court Street over the next few years. Known as “The Court Street Project,” the work revitalizes the blight-stricken city and provides affordable homeownership to individuals with disabilities and others who will benefit from accessible housing that accommodates all guests.
DON Services has also developed a close partnership with Penn Power over recent years.
“Beyond the generous donations we’ve received from the FirstEnergy Foundation, we are especially thankful to the Penn Power employees who volunteer their time and skills to help us complete electrical and machinery work in the homes we’re building and projects we’re completing,” said Hower.
One project in which Penn Power employees played a key part was the construction of the community garden at the Lower East Side Park in New Castle. They spent hours installing a heavy-duty rainwater collection system that looks like a giant flower made from old, large satellite dishes. The system waters the fruits and vegetables, which fed more than 50 local families last year.
A $10,000 FirstEnergy Foundation donation also helped fund an accessible fitness center for individuals with disabilities to enjoy free of charge. For Scialabba, this offering at DON Service’s New Castle facility is life-changing because each piece of exercise equipment is designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
“The support DON receives from community partners like Penn Power directly impacts the lives of individuals with disabilities and makes us feel more included within our communities,” said Scialabba. “The days of having to say no to many activities and gatherings simply because of accessibility issues are slowly coming to an end, and it’s a great feeling.”
Penn Power is made up of a diverse team of employees committed to making customers’ lives brighter, the environment better and our communities stronger. These core values are reflected in the work DON Services provides to the community each day.
“DON Services has a lot of exciting things going on, and we’re eager to continue supporting its initiatives that strengthen the communities we all live and work in,” said John Greenwood, external affairs consultant with Penn Power. “This has truly been a two-way partnership, and our employees are passionate about the work DON Services does to support vulnerable residents.”
In addition to the FirstEnergy Foundation’s support of DON Services, the Foundation has donated more than $3.4 million to nearly 100 organizations across its six-state service territory as part of an “Investing with Purpose” initiative.
The funds support organizations that advance health and safety, workforce development, educational and social justice initiatives. The grants, awarded in December 2020, represent the first round of approximately $7 million in charitable contributions the Foundation will award as part of the program.
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