The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 24, 2013

Person of the Week: Netting funds for autism: 3 girls challenge Tomahawks to volleyball game

Frank Sojak

JOHNSTOWN — The goal of three Forest Hills High School volleyball players is to defeat autism.

Lakin Stiffler, Keri Ondrejik and Brianna Neff, all juniors, went all out to accomplish their quest by inviting the Johnstown Tomahawks to play a benefit game against them and their teammates Tuesday at the high school.

The game was a huge success, raising more than $4,100 with donations still arriving, Keri said. Additional events such as dress-down days are being planned to raise additional funds, Keri said.

The money will go toward the autism program at Alternative Community Resource Program, ACRP, in Johnstown.

All three can’t say enough good things about the Tomahawks for getting involved in their project.

“I feel the Tomahawks are community-minded,” Keri said. “They were just as willing as we thought they would be to help us with this project.”

The girls said Jean Desrocher and Whitney Pappas, both front office personnel for the Tomahawks, were fantastic.

“We could not have done it without them,” Keri said.

The three also appreciated the support of the Tomahawks players, fellow members of their volleyball teams, coaches from the high school and middle school, members of the middle school girls volleyball team, their parents, and the entire school and community for supporting the event.

The three invited six children with autism to help them kick off the event and plan their team’s strategy for the three games that were held.

Keri, who has been working with autistic children at Forest Hills through a school program, said she wanted the crowd to see beyond the disabilities of the children.

“I did not see a disability,” she said while working with the children. “I looked more into who the child was as a person.”

Brianna said they felt that ACRP was one of many worthwhile organizations that the community would be glad to support.

“It was awesome to see all these people supporting our cause,” she said about the huge turnout at the game.

Lakin said she worked with a family last summer who has an autistic son.

“I just loved him and wanted him to be involved in this program,” she said.

She said they both walked together to the center of the gymnasium floor to place a piece of the autism puzzle together before the games started.

“This summer, all three of us are planning to volunteer with ACRP’s summer camp and spend time with the children,” Lakin said.

For their efforts to fight autism, the three are the Persons of the Week.

Brian Nagle, autism services director for ACRP, said the three did a wonderful job.

“For a senior project, it was just fantastic,” he said. “We are grateful to them, the Forest Hills volleyball team, Tomahawks and all the businesses that supported the event.

“The Tomahawks helping like they did showed that they are a great organization.”

He said the funds raised will go toward helping many children and families.

 Jodi Stiffler, Lakin’s mother, said the entire school and community were amazing in their support. The Tomahawks, too, were fantastic, she said.

“They (players) were excited to be there,” she said. “They spent a lot of time with the children, signing autographs and posing for photographs with them.”

Chopper, the Tomahawks mascot, also was present.

The Forest Hills team won two of the three games.

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