McCandless teen learns to deal with allergy from Vincentian Home residents

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Noah Ingram has a life-threatening tree nut allergy that makes him anxious when he goes to new places, but the teen is fearless when he’s pushing patients in wheelchairs through the halls of Vincentian Home on Perrymont Road in McCandless.

“If anything should happen, there are nurses all around,” said Noah, 15, noting that he hasn’t had to use his EpiPen since he began volunteering in June. “This is a better environment for me.”

Noah of McCandless started the ninth grade at North Allegheny Intermediate High School, but he switched schools when it became apparent to his mother, Jennifer, that his nut allergy couldn’t be managed in such a large school.

“We were happy at [North Allegheny],” Mrs. Ingram said. “Noah was playing varsity basketball. He liked his classes; he was making new friends. And then he had four reactions in a week, and we had to take him out of school.”

Now in 10th grade, Noah attends Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Moon, where smaller class sizes ensure a more comfortable environment. Enrollment is more than 1,300 students at North Allegheny Intermediate, which serves just grades 9 and 10. By comparison, there are 370 students in grades 9-12 at OLSH.

Through his service project requirement, OLSH also has inspired him to help other people.

Noah started by helping out at Genesis House, a shelter for pregnant women in Bellevue, where he raised funds to buy them a grill. That project ended up winning him free tuition to OLSH until he graduates in 2017.

He decided to take advantage of the summer break to rack up volunteer hours at Vincentian Home, but he has discovered many more benefits to hanging out with the elderly.

“Old people are cool,” he said. “They like to talk about sports and their grandchildren, and I even learn about history from them.”

Noah said that helping Vincentian residents makes him a better person. “The staff has taught me the basics of what to do and how to be kind and always talk to them,” he said, adding that he’s also learned about compassion and patience. “Sometimes I have to wait a while to get someone.”

Rehabilitation Manager Debbie Hays said teens usually aren’t exposed to elderly, sick people on a daily basis.

“I watch him talk to them and ask them about their lives,” she said, noting that Noah is the home’s youngest volunteer. “He makes you feel good about teenagers.” Patients often request Noah to be their escort.

Ms. Hays said volunteers are a crucial element at the nursing home. “When you have 60 patients on a rehab caseload, two people aren’t enough to transport them all. Volunteers are really helpful, and he’s been one of the best. For someone so young, he knows exactly how to treat them. You can tell he’s had good parenting.”

“It’s been so nice to have him here all summer,” said Kim Graff, a rehabilitation aide. “He’s been willing to do anything to help us. And, at the same time, he brings sunshine with his personality and makes the patients forget about their pain. He also has this knack of remembering everyone’s name, and he checks up on them, too. We all look forward to seeing him.”

He’s also appreciated at school.

“Noah’s initiative and devotion to serving others are admired by his friends, family, high school community and the community at large,” said Jessica Cerchiaro, OLSH’s director of Communications and Constituent Relations.

Noah’s favorite resident is Ralph Lise, 86, formerly of Beaver County. “Ralph was in the Navy,” said Noah, adding that he considers the man to be one of his best friends. “We talk about all sorts of stuff, and I organize his card games.”

“I was surprised by how young he was when I first met him,” Mr. Lise said. “I thought, ’What’s he doing here?’ Now I think they should have more kids like him come here.”

Noah has tried to encourage his friends to join him at the nursing home.

“I tell them it’s really fun,” he said. “But they just say they’ll think about it. I think they’re missing out. It feels really good to do stuff for someone else rather than just for myself.”

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer:

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