• Today is: Sunday, February 19, 2017
Sally Quinn
February17/ 2017

Valentino, the National Aviary’s Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth, made an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” on Feb. 16. He’s getting used to his celebrity status. In October, he was featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

Valentino joined Robert Irwin, son of the late Steve Irwin, “Crocodile Hunter,” in a segment with creatures like an African dwarf crocodile, screaming armadillo and red tail boa. (He’s on at the 6:11 mark.)

Fallon, who made clear his fear of animals, seemed to enjoy his warm and fuzzy encounter with Valentino after holding a huge constricting snake.

“Oh, yes! I love sloths,” Fallon said when the curtain opened to reveal Valentino.

We do, too. This one in particular.

Since Valentino joined the National Aviary as a baby in February of 2016, he has attracted thousands of visitors from across the country to Pittsburgh. He has grown considerably in the past year — he weighs 8 pounds and is now a very vocal teenager. Valentino loves eating grapes, sweet potatoes, squash, papaya and zucchini.

Valentino recently graduated to a new, portable perch, from which he hangs out with adoring National Aviary visitors during daily encounters.

Pittsburgh EMS team adds two more fun wagons–MEDKIDs–to Children’s Hospital ward

EMS wagon
Sally Quinn
February17/ 2017

Patients in Children’s Hospital’s 9-C ward enjoy an extra level of transport from Pittsburgh EMS.

Last spring, as part of an annual benefit for local charities, EMS paramedics Tony Konop and Steve O’Malley designed a wagon for the kids in the hematology and oncology department.

The wagon – resembling a Pittsburgh EMS ambulance – is used to roll little patients to treatments or to send them to the lobby on the way home.

This week, two more EMS wagons will be added to the fleet.

Named MEDKID 1, 2 and 3, each white and orange wagon sports flashing lights, a cozy seat, helmet, pretend radio and all the official EMS stickers.

“We put a horn on the new ones,” says Konop with a laugh. “I’m not sure Children’s will appreciate that! But they can take it off if they don’t like it.”

The first wagon – delivered last spring – was inspired by a little boy with cancer who wanted to be a paramedic for Halloween.

“He was ridiculously cute,” O’Malley says. “We put together a kit for him, and it didn’t look like enough, so we made a vest with patches, and that didn’t look like enough, so we did a helmet and some other things, and we presented it to him. And he really, really liked it.”

The second wagon came about when a mother approached Konop. Her young son had enjoyed the EMS wagon before he succumbed to his disease. She donated her son’s wagon to be repurposed for the hospital ward. The third wagon came from a donation by the family of EMS Chief Robert Farrow.

“We are very thankful to Pittsburgh Paramedics for donating the paramedic wagons,” says Mike Shulock, Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital. “Our patients love the blinking lights, the bell, and the way it’s decorated.”

The new wagons are sure to be as big a hit with the kids as the first.

“They’d take kids down in it to go home, and the kids wouldn’t want to get out of it,” O’Malley says. “They loved it. They would fight over it on occasion. From what I understand, some of the other floors want some now, too.”

The basement of EMS headquarters in Shadyside became a workshop of sorts where the handy paramedics worked on the wagons in their spare time.

“I’m just the idea guy – he’s the artist,” says Konop about his partner’s skills.

“My black boots have over spray on them – white and orange,” O’Malley says. “It’s crazy.”

Other patients will soon benefit from the two wagon masters. They are working on a more heavy-duty wagon for the Animal Rescue League. The name on that one will be the Waggin’ Wagon.

Kristine Sorensen
February15/ 2017


There’s a special bond between coaches and their players.  Now, a program called Coaching Boys Into Men is using that relationship for a good purpose. It works to reduce dating violence and sexual assault by leveraging the influence of coaches, and it’s working in more than 30 school districts across Western Pennsylvania.

The program has actually been proven to work.  Researchers at UPMC studied Coaching Boys Into Men at 16 high schools in the state of California.  They found that the young athletes who participated in the program were more likely to stop abusive behaviors among their peers and there was a relative reduction in abuse by the athletes in the program.

Here in our area, the basketball team at Cornell High School in Coraopolis is in the middle of the program.  There, basketball brings the students together, but it’s only a vehicle for larger lessons for volunteer assistant coach Charles Langston.  He leads the Coaching Boys Into Men program there once a week, for fifteen minutes after practice.  They talk about important topics for teenagers — guided by the Coaching Boys Into Men playbook.

“Responsibility, accountability, being kind, being generous and also understanding what it means to pay it forward as well,” are Langston’s goals in leading the program.  Cornell High School Athletic Director Bill Sacco also believes in using sports as a vehicle for more.  “We’re teaching them things they are going to use the rest of their lives,” Sacco says.  “They may not use basketball the rest of their lives, but they’ll certainly use the skills they’re learning here.”

Langston and Sacco feel it’s important these boys learn respect for all girls and women.  Before they begin the lesson, Langston asked them to repeat after him, “Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, friend,” emphasizing the many women and girls in their lives.

The students say they’re already making changes in their lives, and their parents are noticing.  James Fisher, a freshman at Cornell High School, says his parents “told me after I’ve been in the program, I’ve been more into school and been more respectful toward them and other family members.”  Junior Ty Luster says he’s learned about “respecting our elders, like our  mothers, our sisters, showing them respect around the house, like if we see them carrying groceries, we go get it.”

“Even if it’s a simple skill like holding a door for someone, saying ‘thank you’ to someone, taking hoods off when go into a restaurant,” Sacco says, the lessons are real and practical.

The students like that the lessons come from their coaches — men they respect and look up to.  They also like that it’s with their team-mates — people they trust.   Senior Antonio Gary says, “We’re all brothers, so talking about things, we’re more comfortable around each other because if I say something that’s personal for me, I know my teammates won’t laugh at me,” he says.

At each lesson, they learn, discuss and then shake on it.

“It’s gonna help everyone, every man, or every young man become a better man and better himself,” Gary says.

The United Way is raising money to expand the Coaching Boys Into Men program to more than the 34 school districts in our region.

If you are interested in donating or getting the program at your school, you can call 211, the United Way’s special phone number.

For more information, visit:



Pittsburgh creates community action plan for teen mental health

Michael Machosky
February15/ 2017

Above image: This real-time visual representation of the city-wide assembly on adolescent behavioral health was created by graphic illustrator Leah Silverman. 

Of all the thorny problems faced by teenagers and their still-developing brains, mental illness and substance abuse can be the hardest to address. Families experience long wait times for care, followed by little follow-up. A shortage of healthcare practitioners, limited facility capacity and the number of in-patient beds add to the issue. Communication between multiple insurance plans and hospital systems frequently breaks down, further slowing care.

To address these complicated issues and create a community action plan, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) recently convened a city-wide assembly. Included were more than 50 behavioral health providers, non-profit leaders, foundations, family and patient advocates and elected officials.

The result is the Adolescent Behavioral Health Initiative (ABHI).

“Since we started in 2016, we’ve been talking with community partners about what we can do,” says Robert Ferguson, Jewish Healthcare Foundation’s director of government grants and policy. “The action we’re planning on taking now is working with communities to develop a pilot or demo to expand crisis services in the community to help reduce the time from onset to stabilization, and ultimately, recovery.”

Pittsburgh is not unique in its youth mental health issues.

“It’s pretty common set of problems everywhere,” Ferguson says. “Across the country, people are experiencing … a lack of effective resources to identify and address behavioral health needs.”

As a positive step, he points to the federal “21st Century Cures Act,” which includes mental health policies. The law passed at the end of the Obama administration with a lot of bipartisan support, he says.

The cost of care is less of a problem than one might expect, at least for now, in part because of the Affordable Care Act. “People’s health insurance now covers behavioral health,” Ferguson says. “There’s a lot of Medicaid and CHiP coverage as well.

It’s still early, but Ferguson believes Pittsburgh’s plan for adolescent mental health is on the right path. The pilot ABHI program will begin by summer 2017.

Here are some resources for families in crisis:


My Favorite Thing To Do With Kids: Noland Cheung on Pittsburgh family fun

My Favorite Thing
Sally Quinn
February15/ 2017

My Favorite Thing To Do With Kids is a series of chats with Pittsburgh moms and dads about how they enjoy spending time with their kids.

Name: Noland Cheung

Kids: Christina, 20; Juliana, 16; Alexandra, 13

Noland Cheung is a director at the law firm of Cohen & Grigsby, P.C., where he chairs the intellectual property group and works with inventors to bring their technology to market. He also serves as the new chair of the board at the Carnegie Science Center.

He and his pediatrician wife, Lisa, live in Franklin Park with their three daughters. The oldest is in college.

They are a family of gamers, so to speak.

“We like doing escape rooms,” Cheung says. “We love doing that as a family, and sometimes we fill in with friends or complete strangers. It’s fascinating to try to work with other people to get out of a room in one hour. We’ve done many of the rooms here in Pittsburgh.”

Among the challenging Pittsburgh escape rooms the family has enjoyed are Escape Room Pittsburgh in Greenfield, Escape the Room PA  on the South Side, and IQ Escape in the North Hills.

Is it true the family that plays together stays together?

Cheung agrees.

“We are very family oriented,” he says. “We feel like we’re in our comfort zone when we’re together. I don’t know if it’s the Chinese culture or just the way we grew up with our parents, that we like being together as a family. For us, it’s important for our kids to have a stable family life and know we’ll always be there. The support system is always there.”

See more My Favorite Thing To Do With Kids.