By: Alivia Melius
Melissa Madzy paints a colorful picture for Autism Awareness as her 2020 shirt sales exceeded past years. Each year, Madzy, a Life Skills teacher at Tussey Mountain, sells t-shirts for Autism Awareness Day. Proceeds raised from the fundraiser goes towards resources for the Life Skills classroom. Titans and other members of the community showed their support for autism awareness by wearing the shirts on Apr. 2.
Madzy started selling the shirts in 2017 when Life Skills was still held at Defiance Elementary School. After receiving an ad in the mail, she decided to order one of the designs at the end of the year as a school wide support activity and sell them to the school’s faculty and staff. “While wearing them, we gained a lot of interest from other members in the district,” Madzy said. “I came up with the idea to sell them to faculty and staff district wide to raise money for materials for my classroom. I didn’t expect the support that I received; it continues to grow each year.”
Madzy orders the custom shirts through a company known as WorkPlacePro, a website that creates personalized shirt designs and raises money for causes such as autism awareness, Down syndrome, Alzheimer’s, cancer and several others. The company puts out different designs each year, allowing Madzy to pick from the various selections. “I eliminated the ones that we have already used and brought the rest into my classroom. I, along with the amazing staff in my room, pick the shirt we like best. We try to stick to designs that are unisex but colorful and eye-catching to draw the most attention to the cause,” Madzy said.
Madzy was able to sell the shirts for $10.00 each with a discount code provided from the company, and she placed order forms at school as well as an ad on social media. “I create a public post on Facebook and tag members of the community so that it reaches a broader band of people. Faculty and staff are very supportive in sharing the post and spreading the word. I send out a district wide email. We place order forms in teachers’ lounges, and the Saxton Market always takes an order form, along with local companies that work with students with autism,” Madzy added.
With the funds that came from the shirt sale, Madzy ordered many resources for her students in Life Skills that included sensory, academic, and therapeutic materials. “Sensory materials are specially designed toys for students that are developed to engage a child’s attention both cognitively and physically by stimulating one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste,” Madzy said. “Throughout the years I have been able to purchase so many beneficial materials for my students through this fundraiser. We have two different types of therapeutic swings, weighted blankets, medicine balls, body socks, sensory floor tiles, wobble stools, ball chairs, flexible seating and many other large items. I have also purchased materials for building fine motor and gross motor skills, fidget toys, modified scissors, therapy putties, special calculators, and special apps for the classroom iPad.”
However, the prices for materials needed in the Life Skills classroom can be quite high, making the shirt sale very beneficial. “It is upsetting to see the prices of items that are beneficial for my students, compared to the cost of items for typical students,” Madzy said. “Specialized scissors for students who are working to improve their fine motor skills can cost 10 times the amount of the typical pair, or even more. Our classroom includes learners at many different levels, through this fundraiser we were also able to purchase workbooks and other academic materials to meet the needs of all of our students in the best possible way.”
The resources added to the classroom have helped “build an incredible learning environment for the Life Skills students at Tussey Mountain,” Madzy said. The therapeutic and sensory-friendly materials help the students stay focused on their tasks by giving them a calm feeling. “All the materials that we are able to purchase with the funds have contributed to the incredible growth that my students make each year,” she added. “I am incredibly proud of what we have built together and the benefits it provides for my students.”
Since school was not in session on Apr. 2, Tussey Mountain staff and their families sent photos to Titan Media to show their support for Autism Awareness Day. The photos were then shared on social media. “If you purchased a shirt, we ask that you wear it proudly. It doesn’t need to be this year’s shirt, it can be any shirt over the past years as well. If you did not purchase a shirt, the color that symbolizes Autism Awareness is blue, you may hear the term ‘Light it up blue,’” Madzy said. “Most importantly, it’s not what you wear, but how you act. Apr. 2 may be Autism Awareness Day, but each and every day you can be kind to one another. Teach your children about differences and about acceptance. My favorite quote, and one often used is ‘abilities outweigh disabilities’ and if you’ve ever visited my classroom, you see that on full display.”
Madzy’s fundraiser made an impact outside of Tussey Mountain as well. “Beyond our community, I have had members from my hometown [in the Pittsburgh area], family, and friends from college purchase shirts in support as well. I simply set up the fundraiser, place the orders, and sort the shirts; my effort would mean nothing if it weren’t for those that purchase,” Madzy added. “I even receive donations from people who don’t necessarily want the shirt.”
Madzy sold 331 shirts this year, raising a grand total of $1,200. “The support from the Tussey Mountain community has been remarkably overwhelming. Members of the community help to spread the word even further reaching out to members beyond my realm,” Madzy said. “The support of our small community means the world to me, without their support none of this would be possible. Fundraisers like this show how small communities are willing to come together to support their own. I am truly grateful to the Tussey Mountain community for their continued support for our students.”
Despite being at home, Madzy still encourages the community to show their support for autism awareness by sending in their photos. “I would like to personally thank everybody that has purchased a shirt from my sales over the past 4 years. I am truly grateful for each and every one of you. We had so much planned for Autism Awareness Day this year in our district, with the support of our Superintendent Dr. Jerry Shoemake,” Madzy said. “I hope you are staying safe and healthy in the comfort of your homes and hope to see pictures of you wearing your shirts to show your support. Our Titan Pride is strong.”