When their daughter Jasmine Nyree was born with severe autism, Joey and Christy Porter struggled to find resources to help them care for her. So, the former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and his wife took it upon themselves and tackled the situation head-on.
In 2003, they opened the Jasmine Nyree Day Center in Bakersfield, Calif., for children ages 5 to 12 years old with special needs. Five years later, the couple debuted a larger educational complex that serves children with special needs up to age 21.
Jasmine Nyree turns 22 on June 14. To celebrate, the Porters, who live in Wexford with their four children, are transforming the 180,000-square-foot Holy Innocents Parish in Sheraden into a multi-service facility and community center. It will employ between 200 to 300 people. An on-site job fair is scheduled for July 17.
“Four years ago, I started to put plans in place here for special needs adults,” Christy Porter says. “When this property became available, I instantly knew it was the one. It’s so large; there are so many services we can provide, not just for the special needs community, but for all families in the area.”
Jasmine Nyree Campus is comprised of four buildings, which the Porters bought in December 2019. (A fifth building, the actual church on Landis Street, is owned by the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.) They will open in phases, starting with the Patricia Jean Administration Building, named in memory of Joey Porter’s mother. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on June 1.
The next project is the 65,000-square-foot learning center, slated to open in January 2021. It will house a basketball court, computer lab, library and daycare for adults with special needs. The Porters are working on a partnership with Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide after-school and summer programs to more than 600 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Phase 3 is a 75,000-square-foot community center comprised of a cafeteria, coffee shop, bakery, conference rooms, a mental health clinic, laundromat, drug-and-alcohol treatment facility, cosmetology school and employment hub where people can earn their GED, complete college applications and receive job training. It is scheduled to open in December 2021.
The final project, a collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, is opening in early 2022. It consists of a 40-unit apartment building for low-income seniors, disabled veterans and special needs adults.
While the family renovates the bones of the buildings, they’re already helping the community. Each Saturday, they distribute more than 300 free meals to local children.
Bringing the Jasmine Nyree Campus to life is a lot of work, but Christy says she’s up to the challenge and has the backing of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and City Council President Theresa Kail-Smith.
“Nineteen years ago, when I first started this, there were so many rules and regulations and red tape I had to fight my way through,” she says. “There was a lot of trial and error. I’m a lot wiser now. Being a parent, you just want to do what’s best for your child.”