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  • By Olivia Goudy

Day trips, learning experiences funded by family gift

For more than a decade, Evan Carom spent time in Pittsburgh, working as a counselor and an aid for children with autism.

It was his love for teaching and outreach that prompted his parents to memorialize him by assisting a local autism program.

“We wanted to do something in his memory,” said John Carom, who spoke about his son, Evan, who passed away two years ago.

John and his wife Diane, the owners of Abby’s Gold & Gem in Uniontown, settled on awarding a family gift to Highlands Hospital Regional Center for Autism for a new program — “Evan’s Destination Day Camp.”

“We want to see you kids be able to do some of the things Evan was able to do with other kids, just like you, in Pittsburgh for 11 years,” John said to a crowd of eager children and their families at an indoor carnival at Zachariah Connell Elementary School in August.

“Hopefully you’ll get to go to the zoo, the animal kingdom in Donegal, a Pirates game, a Steeler game — that’s our hope,” John said.

The Carom family’s cousin, Jason Johns, also spoke at the event on Aug. 18, noting his own 20-plus years in the education field.

Johns worked with Evan his senior year of high school to use the volunteer hours at Camp S.P.E.A.K. to go towards his senior project.

“That one week turned into 11 years of service and dedication for the camp and students,” said Johns, who is also an elementary school principal in the Laurel Highlands School District.

“During that time, I remember so many days that Evan brought smiles to student’s faces,” Johns said. “All of the students looked up to him. He was a role model. I hope we can inspire kids here and continue that legacy.”

John talked about his son’s legacy, noting his generosity and quiet nature.

“He was always looking for the meaning of his own life. We believe that’s why he worked with kids — he chose to be a helper,” John said. “He did it quietly, and we know he did it with a true heart. That’s who he was.”

The family pledged $20,000 in Evan’s name to go towards the expenses associated with the day trips, including food, ticket prices, transportation, T-shirts and staffing.

Johns also noted the importance of having public learning experiences.

“Being in education and having autistic support in my own school, I do see the benefits of learning in a classroom, but also in the ability to learn and go out in the community and being able to do community-based instruction and pick up on social cues,” Johns said.

The family also intends to develop an annual fundraising event, not only to help the center but to keep Evan’s memory alive.

“It will keep people’s minds on him. They’ll remember him,” Diane said.

“Nothing good has come out of his loss — until today,” John said. “I entrust you, the staff and Highlands Hospital, to give these kids a good time. Evan enjoyed the good times with those kids, and I’m trusting you to do that here. Think about him once in awhile, while you’re wearing those T-shirts.”

The gift comes at an exciting time for the autism center, which is in the process of moving to the former elementary school in Connellsville. Jordan Moran, the autism center director, said they’ll hopefully be moved into the school by the beginning of next year.

According to a press release from the hospital, students attending the autism center receive services in all areas of their academics, functional living skills, communication, socialization and behavior.

“This generous donation from John and Diane Carom enables us to incorporate off-site recreational day camp experiences during the summer months for our students,” hospital CEO Michelle Cunningham said in the press release.

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