South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Beltzhoover resident works toward gaining independence


Last updated 10/5/2015 at 6:12pm

Darnisha Burney (front, center) with some of the staff that support her at Mainstay Life Service including: (from left)Rashelle Tyler, Ned Ochester, Desiree Walker and Lauren Stoffer.

Even with her own wheels, Darnisha Burney still needs a little help getting around.

The 24-year-old lives with her aunt and grandmother in Beltzhoover, but enjoys being as independent as she can be in her motorized wheelchair. Each morning she heads to work in UPMC's vocational training program and the evenings are hers to enjoy.

Someday she would like to live on her own and to help her get to that goal she receives support from Mainstay Life Services.

Every week and twice every other week, Mainstay staff meet with Darnisha to help her improve her socialization skills, manage money and be more independent. In addition, they also accompany her to social activities outside of the home.

Outgoing and friendly, Darnisha enjoys getting takeout for lunch at work and socializing when work is done for the day. Some of her favorite activities include shopping at South Hills Village Mall for the Hello Kitty and Frozen items she enjoys.

She's also a big fan of karaoke with "I will always love you" being one of her favorite songs to sing.

Rashelle Tyler often accompanies Darnisha on her weekly excursions, helping her count her money when making a purchase or navigating the mall on the way to get her nails done. Darnisha says purple is her favorite color for her nails.

Typically together for about four hours, Darnisha and Ms. Tyler will sometimes go to bingo, Dave and Buster's or a party with family or friends. They've been working together for more than two and a half years now.

Ned Ochester, director of Community Services for Mainstay, explains the organization provides a variety of services to individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities including a residential program, a summer camp program and home and community supports, which Darnisha participates with.

Typically a one-on-one service, home and community supports services depend on the needs of the client. There are almost 120 people currently in the program. The residential program includes about 150 people and 82 participated in the summer camp program.

He said the longer-term goal for Darnisha is to be able to back away from needing some of the services the organization provides. However, they will stay with her as long as she feels she needs the services.

Generally, Darnisha decides what she wants to do and the staff is there to support her, Mr. Ochester said. The goal is to have her be as independent as possible and make her own choices.

"The one limiting factor, as with all of us, is the cost," he said. They often look for discounts on events. This year, the Pirates provided some tickets for Mainstay clients to attend ballgames.

Darnisha's schedule is the determining factor in when staff meet with her, Desiree Walker, a community services manager at Mainstay, said. They try to maintain a continuity of staff in working with Darnisha so she is comfortable with whoever is sent out.

Darnisha will celebrate her birthday in November. Someday, she says, she hopes to live on her own but not just yet.


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