A newsmaker you should know: Shadyside resident starts filmmaking camp for those with autism

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Carolyn Hare became interested in special education at a young age. She comes from a family of teachers and, by the time she was 14, she had developed a reputation as a “willing volunteer.” 

“Both my mother and my grandmother were teachers, and I was always going to school to volunteer and loved working with special education students,” she said.

During the summers she spent at a neighborhood recreation center, Ms. Hare recalled that she always worked with special education students.

“I find them so inspiring,” she said.

So when it came time to choose a major in college, she studied developmental psychology at Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Ms. Hare, 41, then obtained a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction of those with mild to moderate disabilities.

Following in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, she became a teacher at Langley High School in McLean, Va.

“My career began as a teacher for high school students who were moderately to profoundly affected by autism,” she said.

In 2002, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband, Jason, who attended graduate school at Chatham University to become a physician assistant. The couple live in Shadyside with their two children, Ella, 8, and Jamie, 5.

Ms. Hare continued her work with autistic children, and in early 2011, she was in California for a former employer when she visited the Joey Travolta Film Camp.

“The camp is a place for all children — it is inclusive to all adolescents and young adults with autism — to learn the art of filmmaking,” Ms. Hare said.

Joey Travolta, a former special education teacher, is the brother of actor John Travolta.

When Ms. Hare saw the programming and the students, she knew she wanted to start such a camp in Pittsburgh.

“I had lunch with Joey and said, 'How do we get this to Pittsburgh?' ” she recalled.

When she returned to Pittsburgh, she reached out to the autism community and found the response “overwhelming.” In the summer of 2011, the first camp was offered in Pittsburgh.

“It is amazing to watch the kids come together. For two weeks, they work together and produce their films, but it is so much more,” she said.

During the camp, students learn the art of filmmaking and produce their own films. The camp was so inspiring for everyone involved, Ms. Hare said, that she and her husband decided it was too good to be offered only once.

“We decided to make it a priority to keep this program here. We felt we would do whatever we had to do,” she said.

What they had to do led to the creation of a nonprofit called Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh. The foundation's nonprofit status is pending, and Ms. Hare serves as director of the organization.

“We sponsor the film camp, of course, but we also want to expand to other arts programming. We are looking at several ideas right now,” Ms. Hare said.

In addition to her work with the foundation, Ms. Hare works full time as a research clinician with the Autism Tissue Program with Autism Speaks. The program works through the Harvard Brain Tissue Research Center, where scientists study brain tissue in an effort to find the cause of autism. Ms. Hare works to help procure brain tissue.

“I work with families to make the donations happen. It is a very sensitive subject. After someone loses a loved one who is an organ donor, I walk them through the process,” she said.

“I work with families who want to make a difference in the world of autism, and I get to travel all over to meet with them,’’ she said.

“Kids with autism are underserved, and I hope that the foundation generates the support it deserves."

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