Autistic bell ringers raise money for charity, learn life skills in the process

HUMMELSTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – It’s one of the many sounds of the season – with a twist. Some bell ringers for the Salvation Army’s Red Kettle campaign in Dauphin County are not who you might expect.

The scene inside Hummelstown’s Kmart store, with people standing around a red hanging bucket seeking donations, probably rings a bell.

What might not are the people behind the scenes.

“We support adults with autism,” Lindsey Panassow, a life skills instructor with Vista Adult Services in Hershey, said Tuesday.

Adults like Matt Guerisi, one of several people ringing bells from the group, which grew out of the Vista School, for those with autism.

“We are thrilled to have Vista with us,” Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region development assistant Jessica Johnson said.

Guerisi was there with his life skills instructor. “A lot of folks call us Matt 1 and Matt 2 or Matt squared,” Matt Sheaffer said of Guerisi and himself. “We hang out a lot together.”

Sheaffer helps Guerisi get out and about — to be a part of his community. That’s the ultimate goal of the program, to help their clients develop the life skills they need to find and keep jobs and help out in the places they live.

“And really what we look for,” Sheaffer said, “is what do our young men and women like to do?”

That’s why this is about more than just collecting money for the Salvation Army — although they are good at that. On their first day last week, they brought in a couple hundred bucks.

“In this area, the people are very generous,” Johnson said, “so a $200 kettle is definitely a good one.”

“It’s a huge way to contribute and give back to charities and teaches them life skills in the process,” Panassow said.

Those skills, the interactions, that’s the gift that keeps on giving. “I cannot express in words what it means to support these men and women and their families,” Sheaffer said.

The bell ringers will be at various places around the area through the end of the month.

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