Cypress Way was packed with police cars, ambulances and other emergency and non-emergency vehicles on Sunday, June 4, for a Touch-A-Truck event that attracted parents and kids from Mt. Lebanon and beyond.
Medical Rescue Team South Authority co-hosted the event with the nonprofit organization Minds of All Kinds, a group composed of parents and caregivers with children on the autism spectrum. Minds of all kinds creates social events in a fun, safe environment for these children and their families.
The event was the brainchild of Katie Luciani, who spearheads Minds of All Kinds, and MRTSA paramedic Lyndsay McKeown.
Both have children on the autism spectrum and find themselves avoiding crowds, which often means they miss out on large-scale events where there’s lots of noise and motion. They came up with the idea to host a sensory-friendly, judgement-free Touch-A-Truck event that everyone could enjoy.
“Parents and caregivers can bring their children to this event and there’s no judgement. We keep it low-key as far as lights and noise, and they can just enjoy a typical event and be themselves and not worry about anything, really,” McKeown said.
That’s a big goal of the nonprofit.
“I wanted to put this organization together to create events like this so that we have a fun and safe environment and don’t feel judged,” Luciani added.
Lights and sirens can be frightening for children. For MRTSA leaders, it was important to host an event that was designed for all children. “We wanted them to be acclimated to first responders, in case they encounter one of us,” said MRTSA paramedic Grace Lee.
MRTSA and Minds of All Kinds didn’t have to go very far to find vehicles for the event. A number of agencies and vendors reached out as soon as the event was scheduled. Mt. Lebanon, Castle Shannon and Robinson Township police departments brought vehicles, along with the Mt. Lebanon fire and public works departments, McGann and Chester, Urban Search and Rescue Pennsylvania Task Force 1, South Hills Landscaping & Excavating and Waste Management. MRTSA even had their own ambulances on hand to tour.
MRTSA therapy dog CJ and fellow therapy dog Winston were a big hit. Courtney Moon, a former MRTSA employee who now works as a nurse, accompanied Winston, an 18-month-old Australian Labradoodle. “He makes everybody smile. You can see the change in demeanor when he’s around,” she said.
McKeown and Luciani hope to make the sensory-friendly Touch-A-Truck an annual event.