Girl, 11, sets up autism benefit

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Born eight days apart, Sophie Levitt and her cousin, Marla Berardi, grew up together and are good friends.

So when it came time for Sophie, 11, to design a bat mitzvah project that benefits others, it was Marla, who has autism, who came to mind.

"Most people think of food banks or donating to homeless shelters; I wanted to think outside the box," said Sophie, of Highland Park.

The project, titled Electronics for Autism, aims to acquire a minimum of 18 newly purchased or gently used iPad or Nintendo 3DS/3DS XL devices to aid children with autism.

Sophie plans to donate the devices to organizations and families in Pittsburgh and Karmiel, Israel, which serves as the partnership city for the Jewish community in Pittsburgh.

On Nov. 20, Sophie made her first donation: three iPads and iPad cases to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Pathfinder School for exceptional children in Bethel Park.

"We are deeply touched and grateful that Sophie would think of the needs of our students," AIU spokeswoman Sarah McCluan said. "This is certainly an extraordinary effort by an obviously extraordinary young lady."

The AIU provides specialized education services to the county's 42 suburban school districts and coordinates 130 programs for infants, students and adults.

Sophie met with representatives of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Autism Connection of Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Ballet about her work.

When the Cultural Trust staged an autism-friendly performance of Disney's "The Lion King" in September, Sophie distributed flyers about her project.

She got the idea for the project from watching Marla, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., use an iPad for compiling recipes and playing games.

Project criteria include helping others and "tikkun olam," a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world."

Sophie chose 18 for the minimum number of donations because 18 is a spiritual number in Judaism.

She began collecting the gently used electronic devices and cash this summer. So far, she has raised almost $1,500 for new purchases and repairs.

The venture will end June 20 when she celebrates at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill her bat mitzvah, a Jewish coming of age ritual,

Sophie, a sixth-grader at the Obama Academy of International Studies in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, is the daughter of Lee and Karen Levitt, who said the project captured their hearts from the start.

"It touched us because it is about her cousin. She could have done anything, but because it is her cousin it makes it that much more meaningful," Mrs. Levitt said.

To donate cash or gently used devices, visit or For more information, email or

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:

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