Skip to main content

North Hills Monthly

Clients, Communities Benefit from Lifesteps’ Services

Oct 31, 2017 05:17PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

It may look like play, but free developmental Child Check screenings provided by Lifesteps help identify early delays in children age birth to 5.

Children, families, adults with special needs, and seniors who need support, training or advocacy can turn to Lifesteps, an organization that helps its clients meet life’s changing needs by developing programs and providing services to improve quality of life.

“For those folks who have any kind of needs that are significant or specialized, we are working to provide them with care and support in order for them to be successful,” said Chief Program Officer Michael Gathje. 

The organization started over 90 years ago as a means to transport children with disabilities to needed services. Over the years, it had been associated with Rotary International as well as Easter Seals. Then, in the 1980s, it evolved into the organization that it is today. A nonprofit agency based in Butler, Lifesteps’ 600-plus employees run 35 services and programs that serve children through seniors in a 10-county area in western Pennsylvania, including Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Indiana, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Washington, and Westmoreland counties. 

The agency supports individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, and is involved in everything from early education to helping clients with basic tasks in their daily lives to providing workforce training. 

One such program is a home-based Early Head Start program that serves 117 families and children who are at or below the poverty line; about 10 percent of those children also have developmental disabilities.

“We work with families to identify ways to help their children develop at age-appropriate levels, provide them with basic education, and train parents to become educators of their own children so they can identify important milestones in their children’s development and instill confidence in them,” said Gathje.

Through Pre-Employment Training Services, a new program started last year, the organization partners with school districts in three counties to work with students on the autism spectrum, or who have identified intellectual disabilities, to help prepare them for future employment. It also works with school districts in its Transition Program to help students approaching graduation transition into the workforce in an integrated work capacity, providing assessment and on-the-job training as they work alongside fellow employees.

“That is important for us on a number of levels,” said Gathje. “We want to make sure individuals who have disabilities are participating in the community and living as close to everyday lives as they possibly can.

“Acquiring these skills will help to improve participant’s long-term success,” said Gathje, adding that the economic benefits of such programs include minimizing costly personal assistance often needed by adults with disabilities.

“Through meaningful employment, adults can work to their fullest to provide life goals for themselves and the communities in which they live,” he added. “Participants are encouraged to work to contribute their gifts, talents and abilities to businesses, employers and the local community.”

Adult training facilities operated by Lifesteps are designed to help adults with intellectual or other disabilities with daily living skills; they also work to develop recreational, job training or volunteer opportunities by partnering with businesses in the community.

For clients who need constant care, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease or who have recently suffered strokes, Lifesteps also runs an adult day program in Butler County, giving the families that support them a chance for respite or the ability to go to work. “With a registered nurse on duty, we provide daily activities, meals and an opportunity to exercise to help them remain healthy and active,” said Gathje.

Lifesteps also operates 51 community homes interspersed throughout the 10-county area, supporting individuals with special needs. The current residents range in age from 18 to 92.

Gathje, who has worked in a number of organizations geared toward helping individuals in one capacity or another, believes strongly in LifeSteps and shared that there is a culture of commitment and care toward every individual that they serve.

“We are really committed to making their experience at Lifesteps a success, however that is defined, at whatever level they’re participating,” he said. “We’ll wrap our arms around that child and work to make him or her a success.

“If an adult who is 50 with Down’s syndrome wants to prepare a cake on a Sunday afternoon or plant a garden, we’re going to make sure that those things happen,” he added. “It’s a high-quality program that is really person-centered, really making sure that everyone succeeds, no matter how that is defined.”

To learn more about Lifesteps’ services, visit or call 724-283-1010.