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Augusta Levy Learning Center



April 2, 2017

The City of Wheeling and communities across the globe will be lighting up blue Sunday for World Autism Awareness Day.

The Augusta Levy Learning Center is asking people throughout the Ohio Valley to help spread autism awareness by wearing blue clothing, stringing blue lights on your house, or anything that proudly displays the color blue.

The event is not necessarily a fundraiser, but aims to start a conversation about autism. 

Staci Stephen is the Director of Development at Augusta Levy Learning Center. "I think it's really important not only for Wheeling, but for the entire state of West Virginia, the entire United States to kind of realize this is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. Currently the C.D.C says 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism, which is staggering and has been increasing by 10 to 17 percent every year. So we need to get awareness out there," stated Stephen.

Augusta Levy is asking everyone to send photos of their contribution to the "Light It Up Blue" cause by e-mail to Staci Stephen.


April 2, 2017

In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, the Augusta Levy Learning Center asked the city of Wheeling to "Light It Up Blue" and help spread autism awareness. 
Local businesses and the community delivered with overwhelming support.
"Our main objective is just to raise awareness and raise acceptance of children, individuals with autism. A place like Augusta Levy would not probably exist anywhere but a place like Wheeling, where the community has come together to support us," said Staci Stephen, Director of Development at Augusta Levy Learning Center.
It was an explosion of blue at Figaretti's, Ye Olde Alpha, and Whisk Bakery which donated half of the proceeds from their blue cupcake sales to Augusta Levy.
Co-owner Lara Graves says they made more than 20 dozen cupcakes for the cause, a cause that is close to their hearts. 
"We love being part of the community, but this actually was a little more personal involvement for us. We consider a lot of our staff like family, and one of our staff's son has autism. We wanted to give back to the community through cupcakes and also just sharing our love for her family," said Graves. 
Love was a common theme on this day for autism awareness.
Elizabeth Holden's son was diagnosed at 18 months. She says the love and support her family has received from Augusta Levy has been life changing. She hopes that by spreading awareness, more children on the spectrum will experience that love.
"I think it's important to the community because autism diagnoses are on the rise, and I think that the community really needs to be educated. They need to support, they need to go ahead and teach their children that these kids aren't anything but different. They're not any less. They love. They feel. They just do it in a different way."
So why "Light It Up Blue"? It's because boys are five times more likely to have autism than girls. 
The Augusta Levy Learning Center would like anyone who participated in "Light It Up Blue" to send pictures. 
You can email them to

Pinwheel Kids

February 23, 2017

On January 30th, the Augusta Levy Learning Center (ALLC) received a gift of $25,000 from the Martha R. Parlin Trust to assist children with autism. Executive Director, Kathy Shapell said, “The Martha Parlin Trust helps to improve the lives of our community’s most vulnerable children. We are so grateful for their continued support of Augusta Levy Learning Center and appreciate their partnership in caring for our children and giving them the opportunity to succeed.”
ALLC recently expanded their services to pre-adolescents in a pilot program, Independence through Intervention. In this program, pre-adolescents ages 8-12 years old participate in community outings with their therapists to work on navigating public transportation, communication, learning how to ask for help,building social relationships, learning to read signs, eating at a restaurant, and volunteering at Wheeling Catholic Charities, etc. Therapists also work on self-advocacy, self-regulation, pursuing interests, communication, etc. while at the Center and while in the community.


November 11, 2016

I had no idea what was in store for me when I agreed to participate.  Sure, I basically dropped every hint possible that I wanted to dance.  And sure, Bennett had gone through DWTOVS two years ago...but his experience and mine were so very different.  He was the laid back guy who eased us into the program and the Augusta Levy Learning Center.  I was the full blown, enthusiastic-but-intense version, who jumped in head first.  (Which is basically our entire relationship dynamic in a nutshell.)

This week has been emotionally draining for me.  I was wrapped up completely in DWTOVS.  Not only were we rehearsing two/three times a week, but I was creating costumes, and being a social media queen, and texting with Walker a million times a day about all of the above.  It was my life.  For six weeks, all I knew to talk and think about was this dance.  It was the best experience ever.'s hard to recover from.  I feel a little lost.  Completely sad.  And insanely silly for having these emotions.  Maybe we can start a support group for former DWTOVS stars?  Because I've needed it this week.

That being said, I wouldn't take a single part of it back.  I'd do it all again if I could.
Even if I was crying last night because I missed being at dance rehearsal.  Yes.  This is what I've become.  Crying because I'm not in a small room, dancing and sweating my butt off.  Haha.

I've watched competition shows before and the partners all act like they're super close.  And I get all "you've know each other for a couple of weeks, cool your jets".  However, I get it now.  I spent several hours a week, relying on Walker and Walker alone.  We had to create a partnership out of thin air.  He's been my emotional crutch, cheerleader, teacher, and sometimes my actual crutch...when he's kept me from falling on my face a couple of times.

Have I mentioned that I NEVER wear heels?  And yet, I thought it was the best time to not only wear them, but to dance in them?  Haha.  It worked out for the better...but I'm still not sure what crazy pills I was taking when I ordered my fancy shoes in.  

I wanted to prove myself worthy of the "star" status.  So I took to social media.  Hard.  I'm sorry if you're one of my followers and are tired of hearing about this dance.  Haha.  I couldn't help myself.  The more tickets I could sell, the more money that would be going to the ALLC for their work with special needs children in my city.  And I was going to do everything I could to get the word out.  I felt like a small fry compared to the other stars and I wanted to make sure I pulled my weight.

The brilliant part about Walker as a partner is that he was always encouraging.  And excited.  I'd have a dorky and crazy scheme and would literally cringe as I sent that "what do you think about this new weird idea?" text.  I always expected an eye roll of sorts.  Yet somehow, he'd always respond with nothing but positivity and enthusiasm.  Together, we created a logo, sold koozies as a fundraiser, made a selfie poster, sold Lady Gaga-esque merchandise, ran a "campaign", had #mckinleyholloway2016 and #makewheelingdanceagain as our own personal hashtags, and made hysterical and awesome glasses for our supporters to wear during the actual dance event.

Walker and I walked away with a 1st Runner Up trophy.  And we couldn't be happier with the results.  Taking second place to Claire and Jake was more than enough for us.  Their dance was awesome and we worked our asses off.  If there was anyone I'd lose to, it'd be those two.  

Plus!  Hello second place?!?  That's something to celebrate!!

I am insanely proud of Walker.  Not only is he one of the hardest workers I've had the pleasure of working with, but he's also one of the most supportive and positive people I've come into contact with.  He has so much energy and I am honored that I was able to be partnered with him.  You can tell how hard he's worked to become a pro.  He deserved every second of recognition last Saturday.  This night was as much his as it was mine.  He's kind of the bees knees.

Thanks for pairing us, ALLC!  I'm loving having a new BFF in town.

The Augusta Levy Learning Center deserves the highest praises.  But I feel like I'll never be able to really convey how amazing their staff and programs are.  Kathy and Staci are beings that are comprised of only giant hearts.  No joke.  Spend the slightest amount of time around either of them and you'll want to become their mentees.  They are a couple of gorgeous, brilliant, giving, inspirational women (my favorite kind of women).  I read that they brought in over $46,000 for their intensive Autism based programs in just that one night.  That's a lot of money to go into helping the children in our community.  That's amazing.

Teacher and Student

November 4, 2016

We’re one day away from one of the biggest fundraisers in the Ohio Valley!

Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars is a night of entertainment that supports an amazing cause. For 11 years they’ve been serving children with autism in the Ohio Valley. Thursday was TJ Ullom’s sixth birthday. He likes laughing, counting and learning about the solar system, but two years ago he had trouble communicating and playing with kids in daycare. His parents Tim and Kayla had him tested for autism.

“The speech therapy started right away and not long after we started going to Augusta Levy and he started flying from there,” said TJ’s dad, Tim.

In August, Tim posted on Facebook as TJ started his new adventure.

“When you go to school, where do you go?,” asked Tim.

“Kindergarten,” exclaimed TJ.

But even at Elm Grove Elementary, TJ had some help getting adjusted.

“What was really awesome about Augusta Levy is when he started kindergarten, they had someone with him to transition him. So he doesn’t go alone, and scared and confused, and they will go as long as they feel like they need to be there,” said TJ’s mom, Kayla.

Thanks to the ABA therapy TJ received at Augusta Levy, he was able to start school on time with his peers. That’s the goal for every kid that attends the center.

“Approximately 84 percent of our graduates are in typical classrooms with no further intervention, so we’re really proud of that number and we hope to continue that,” said Staci Stephen, Director of Development at August Levy Learning Center.

That’s why fundraisers like Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars are essential to Augusta Levy. They help offset the costs of one-on-one therapy each student who attends the Center needs.

“We were lucky to be there with the great therapists they have and uh, TJ, he blossomed with them and he’s you know, I think the sky is the limit for him now,” said Tim.

VanFossen One of 11 Dancing Stars for Augusta Levy

Fun with Imagination


Parents of children with autism face struggles everyday, and for some of them, it includes things as basic and heart wrenching as teaching those children to make eye contact.

A place in Wheeling works to conquer some of those struggles.

"If you want to see a miracle listen to my son sing happily or ask for something he needs or wants," Fran Adams, parent of a child at Augusta Levy Learning Center, said in a testimonial on the Center's website. "They have given me the best gift I could ever hope to have and that is my child's voice, smile and attention."

Augusta Levy Learning Center started in June 2005, and back then, it was one of the few evidence-based autism treatment program in the state. The Center uses Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, which an evidence-based, individualized treatment for children with autism. 

"You really can't take a break from autism," said Kathy Shapell, executive director of Augusta Levy. "The children's needs are such that we're trying to bring them out of autism, and if you are lax about that, they can tend to slip back into their own world, and we want to sort of force them to be in our world."

Shapell said research has shown 30 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one, intensive ABA will provide the best outcomes. 

"Each of our children here full-time get 35 hours per week of one-on-one intervention from highly skilled and trained ABA therapists, overseen by Board Certified Behavior Analysts," she said. "And another really important key component to our program-this is also what is shown in the research-is a strong parent component, and we train our parents just as we do our staff."

Shapell, who was a special education teacher in the Washington D.C., area before moving back to the upper Ohio Valley she grew up in to raise her own two children, said ABA therapy is different for each child and tailored for each age range. The children move to different rooms throughout the day and rotate among the three or four therapists in their treatment teams to be sure the things they learn can be functional and transitioned to real-life settings. 

"Children who are babies or even toddlers, it's very play-based because that's what their work is," she said. "By the time a child is 3, we like them to transition to the Center, and some of the kids we get have tried school settings and it just has not worked for them because of lack of communications skills. They tend to have behaviors, and it just hasn't been successful."

Shapell said Augusta Levy is considered alternate placement for the older children. The goal is to transition into neighborhood schools, which two-thirds of graduates of the center have. The average time at the center is about two years for each child, but some transition in 14 months and others do it in four years. 

"These are kids who when we get them, they don't even appear to understand what's being said to them, and they really don't show an interest in learning from the natural environment like a typically developing child would," Shapell said. "We're teaching them how to learn, first with very basic one-word instructions, and then it becomes very, very complex so that you're teaching them how to have a conversation and how to initiate play. 

"It can get very intense, we've had kids who were solving of 'x,' reading, doing things very complicated cognitive skills, but also for them, navigating that social piece they have, by nature of the condition."

In 2012, one in every 88 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the CDC, and Shapell said even seven years ago when Augusta Levy opened, the children were older because that's when they were first diagnosed.

"Now we've seen a shift," she said. "Diagnosticians, pediatricians in our state must be getting better at identifying autism because we're seeing babies, 18 months, 22, 24 months, and that's fantastic because it allows them to receive earlier intervention. 

"A 6-year old who isn't talking and just got diagnosed-that's a lot to catch up on." The center can typically only serve 15 children at a time. Despite a waiting list with more than 100 names on it, no one is turned away because of inability to pay, and students come from throughout the trial-state area. 

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who was on hand for ceremonial signing of anew law to provide insurance coverage for ABA, gave high praise to Augusta Levy.

"This center has provided hope to parents of many of our special needs children," Kessler said. "The services available in our community have proven to be a God-send to our children and their families."

Shapell said most members of her 13-therapist staff are natives of the upper Ohio Valley, thanks to the internships and partnerships with area colleges and universities, and each month staff receives training. 

"It's not for everyone, but I will say I have never in my career worked with a group of people like the therapists we have," she said. "They are incredibly dedicated, and they eat, breathe, and sleep ABA, and are constantly striving to find out what else can we do to reach this child, and I love that.

"I love that they never stop believing in our kids and trying to find what's best for helping them break through."

Augusta Levy Learning Center Changing Lives One Dance at  a Time

Dancing with the Ohio Valley Stars Raises $30,000 for Augusta Levy Learning Center

Augusta Levy Learning Center waltzes into 7th Annual Event

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