Boy who started autism group recognized

WELLSBURG – A 10-year-old boy who started a nonprofit group to help children with autism, and second-graders whose Christmas ornament will hang from a tree at the State Capitol Complex were recognized by the Brooke County Board of Education Monday.

Jason Polgar, a fifth-grader at Follansbee Middle School, introduced himself as the chief executive officer of Ryan’s Prayer of Hope and Healing for Autism as he appeared before the board and many others to present an iPad to 5-year-old Travis McAleer, a pupil at Hooverson Heights Primary School with autism.

William McAleer and Karen Piehs, Travis’ parents, explained the iPad will be equipped with Proloquo2Go, a communications app that will allow Travis to communicate with them by pressing an image on the iPad’s screen.

McAleer said when he learned a local boy raised money for the iPad and app, “It caught me by surprise. We’ve been trying to get one for a while.”

Autism is a class of conditions in neural development that affect a child’s ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally with others.

Polgar said he observed how an iPad helped his younger brother Ryan, who also has autism, to learn to communicate with him and his family.

“He began associating the images with words, and now he can say sentences with up to five words,” Polgar said.

He credits Tina Zago, a fellow member of the Christian Assembly of Follansbee, with giving him the idea to make and sell beaded bracelets to raise money for the iPads. As sponsor for Polgar’s group, the church provides materials and volunteers through both its adult membership and children in its afterschool program, the Follansbee Christian Center.

Polgar said credit also must go to the Brooke County Rotary Club for contributing to the iPad’s cost. The group is one of many who Polgar has spoken to about his cause.

Zago, who also is a Brooke County school principal, was reluctant to take any credit, stressing Polgar, who is the son of Joe and Barb Polgar of Follansbee, is involved in every aspect of the effort.

“He has been a volunteer, guest speaker and salesperson for the group,” she said.

Lauren Roadman, who teaches McAleer and other children with autism at Hooverson Heights Primary School, presented to Polgar a large thank-you card signed by children and teachers at the school.

Board President Jim Piccirillo also thanked Polgar, adding he was impressed by his generous spirit and articulate manner.

Polgar closed his short speech to the board by quoting the Biblical scripture of John 3:16.

He said the cost for each bracelet is $10. Supporters may contact Polgar and others behind the cause by e-mail at

Polgar also is working on a website to be found at

The board also recognized Nanette Reitter and second-graders at Franklin Primary School for creating a Christmas ornament that won a statewide contest, in the grades K-2 division, and will be displayed on a Christmas tree at the State Capitol Complex in Charleston.

In addition to a letter of congratulations from Joanne Tomblin, wife of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the school will receive a $125 gift certificate for art supplies.

Reitter, a traveling art teacher for the school district, said after learning of a contest challenging youth to create a Christmas ornament honoring first responders, she charged her pupils with creating images to be incorporated into an ornament.

The Franklin pupils’ pictures were inspired by visits by members of the Franklin Community Fire Department to teach the children about various aspects of fire safety.

Reitter said perhaps the assignment came naturally to the children because many have family members in the volunteer department.

She said she intended to incorporate the various images into a globe-shaped ornament but as she proceeded, she found they best fit into the shape of a fire hydrant.