In my “Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy” series, I feature different Pittsburgh mothers who have started unique grassroots-type projects within the city. These projects directly benefit the greater good of Pittsburgh and improve the lives of our children, families, and/or other mothers.  The series is my humble effort to create a positive, supportive environment among Pittsburgh mothers.  I hope that it will a) help make these projects a success b) motivate other mothers to help support these projects and c) inspire other mothers to make their own dreams a reality.  An Introduction to the series can be found here.

Rebecca Covert, the inspired Pittsburgh mommy who started Firefly Arts
Rebecca Covert, the Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy who started Firefly Arts

This time in my “Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy” series, I am featuring a Pittsburgh mother named Rebecca Covert. Rebecca is the founder of a local organization called Firefly Arts, which provides innovative arts-based programming for families raising children with autism in the city.  Rebecca just launched her first major fundraising campaign for Firefly Arts and I wanted to help support this effort through featuring her project in a blog post.  Here’s what I discovered about Firefly Arts during a recent conversation with Rebecca (in her own words):

What is Firefly Arts?

Firefly Arts is a new organization in Pittsburgh designed to build a sense of community between families living with autism through arts-related programming. I gravitated toward the name Firefly because a firefly is more than what meets the eye.  It is a creature of beauty and inspiration when illuminated.  There are still people out there that underestimate autistic individuals when, in fact, they have so much to teach us if we just find opportunities to let them shine!

What programming will you offer?

The heart of Firefly Arts will be our 8-week family program. It is designed to serve the whole family. There will be exploratory arts workshops for the kids integrating visual art, music, and movement and there will be adult programming for caregivers including yoga, stress relief classes, art-making sessions, etc.  That way, it’s a one-stop shop:  everyone gets served, and we build a united front–a community–in the process.

A Firefly Arts participant learning cello basics with Rachel Smith, Music Teaching Artist Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography
A Firefly Arts participant learning cello basics with Rachel Smith, Music Teaching Artist
Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography

Have you held any programming yet?

We recently held our first family event at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.  It was a one-workshop teaser to showcase our family program and to give us insights into how we can further adapt and refine our programming to better suit the needs and interests of participating families.  It was truly magical to watch an idea that has been stuck on paper for months, come to life. Seeing the excitement of the children and parents as they engaged with our teaching artists was energizing and inspiring.

A Firefly Arts participant designing his next mandala for a family  painting project. Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography
Designing a mandala for a family painting project.
Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography


What programming is upcoming?

We are continuing to fundraise to support the full 8-week family arts program.  Our hope is that we will be able to pilot it this summer at one or more of our established partner sites: Familylinks, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, or The Woodlands.  In the meantime, we are offering several three-workshop series exploring natural habitats (ocean, rainforest, Arctic, etc.).  These workshops will start on Saturday, January 25th at Familylinks Therapeutic Learning Center in the South Hills.

How can the community help in your fundraising efforts?

We launched our big fundraising campaign online on January 1, 2014 via Indiegogo.  Please check our website,  Facebook page, and Twitter account for more information on this campaign.  Firefly Arts is not officially a 501c3 non-profit yet, but we’re fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization based in New York City.  All donations to Firefly Arts will be tax deductible.


Next, I learned about Rebecca’s inspiration for starting Firefly Arts:

Rebecca's son, Jack, striking a pose at a local Touch-a-Truck event.
Rebecca’s son, Jack, striking a pose at a local Touch-a-Truck event.

What is your personal connection to autism?

My son, Jack, was diagnosed with autism in 2010.  He seemed to be developing neuro-typically until he reached 20 months when we noticed a severe regression in his ability to communicate and socialize.  Now, at age 5, his daily life is dictated by a struggle to process sensory information.  Jack is hyposensitive, meaning he requires and craves more sensory input than most children.  Fortunately, this translates into lots of hugs and snuggles, a love of music, a need to explore different tactile surfaces and textures, and a constant desire to go-go-GO!  To be honest, the ASD diagnosis was really tough to accept initially, but my husband and I found peace as we explored autistic self-advocacy networks online and encountered more autistic children and their parents throughout our journey.  Jack’s autism is a major part of what makes him an awesome kid and his innate joy and unique perspective of the world is truly a gift.  He teaches us something new every single day!

Rebecca performing with guitarist Dan Burgun at her cabaret, Lady in Flames
Rebecca performing with guitarist Dan Burgun at her cabaret, Lady in Flames

What is your personal connection to the arts?

I received my Master’s degree in elementary education from Duquesne University.  However, after witnessing the disappearance of arts programming in schools, I decided to enter the classroom as a teaching artist instead of seeking a full-time teaching position.  For the past eight years, I’ve worked with Gateway to the Arts as a drama and music teaching artist, helping to integrate arts strategies into literacy and STEM instruction.  I also provide weekly drama classes for the students at Familylinks’ Therapeutic Learning Center and perform locally as a children’s storyteller.

I’m also a blues and jazz singer in Pittsburgh and perform in local theatrical productions when I can carve out the time.  I recently wrote and performed an autobiographical one-woman cabaret called “Lady in Flames” with a group of amazing musicians who donated their time and talent in order to raise money for Firefly Arts.  I’m working on a new cabaret project with vocalist Anna Elder and pianist/composer James Rushin that will hit the stage this coming summer.

Rebecca and her son, Jack, enjoying a fall hay ride at Triple B Farms

Why were you inspired to start Firefly Arts? 

When we first received Jack’s diagnosis, I really struggled.  I was successfully engaging classrooms full of children; then, I would come home and would be unable to get Jack to respond to his own name!   After one particularly bad day (crying in a school parking lot) I knew I had to find a way to reconcile my teaching life with my parenting life.  Jack always responded well to music, and I started singing and coming up with movements for just about everything we did together.  I also started working with the autism support classroom at Familylinks.  Using pictures books as a springboard for instruction, I discovered music and movement strategies that encouraged one-on-one interaction and engagement. I learned that the arts are a powerful engagement tool to help autistic children explore creative and accessible ways to find their voice, understand concepts relevant to their world, and nurture new relationships.  I knew I wanted to realign my professional goals and adapt my teaching style to continue working in this field.



Finally, I learned about how Rebecca maintains her balance between her personal and professional life:

Bob, Rebecca's husband, giving Jack a lift while visiting Point State Park
Bob, Rebecca’s husband, giving Jack a lift while visiting Point State Park

How do you balance your role as mom/creator of Firefly Arts?

I have an extremely patient husband. I’ll say it again:  an EXTREMELY patient husband.  There are days when balance does not exist, but I’m lucky to have a partner who understands and supports my need to seek creative opportunities and to leave no stone unturned. We also share parenting and housekeeping responsibilities.  He is really hands-on and wonderful with Jack.  Firefly Arts would still be an idea, on paper, if that were not the case.  My greatest struggle is finding balance between work and family…that and not getting enough sleep.  Jack wakes up several times a night, which adds an element of delirium to the day.   I just constantly remind myself to stay in the present, keep my head where my feet are planted, and trust that I’m pointed in the right direction!


Out of all the women that I have interviewed for the Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy series, I felt like I could relate to Rebecca Covert’s story the most.  “I was crying, just sobbing, in my car,” she told me, “I couldn’t understand how I could connect with children in the classroom, but I couldn’t connect with my own child.”  I got it.  I got her.  Although, my struggles with being a mother/doctor were clearly different than Rebecca’s, I understood the intense emotions involved in reconciling one’s professional and personal lives.  I too have wailed mournfully in my car, wishing desperately that my choices were easier.  In fact, I’m sure we all have.

Rebecca leading a circle activity at Firefly Arts' first family event Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography
Rebecca leading a circle activity at Firefly Arts’ first family event
Photo credit: Stephanie Letzkus of Letzkus Photography

What distinguishes Rebecca from so many other people, is that she didn’t let it end there. She didn’t wipe away her tears and go on with her regularly scheduled routine.  In fact, after speaking with Rebecca, I realized that it would have been impossible for her to do so.  She is a woman of such intense passion that she will fight tirelessly until she is living a life that makes her proud.    And so, Firefly Arts was born.  It is the perfect amalgamation of her professional interests (in education and in the visual and performing arts) and of her personal investment in finding a way to “illuminate” her child, and every other one, living with autism.

“I don’t really feel like I have a choice,” she says courageously, “I’m not sure if it will work out. But I just HAVE to try and make this project a success.  For me, for my son, for other families living with children who have autism.”

Rebecca, you do have a choice.  We all do.  And you made a beautiful one.  Thank you for taking a leap of faith and choosing to use your creative talents in this inspiring project.  I wish you the best of luck with your current fundraising campaign and with Firefly Arts, in general!

Want to connect with Rebecca Covert and Firefly Arts?  Here’s the link to her website,  Facebook page, and Twitter account.  Also, if you would like to donate to her fundraising campaign, here’s her Indiegogo site.


© Copyright 2014 Nadine Champsi, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog
Nadine Champsi

Nadine Champsi

I am a doctor turned write-at-home-mom who runs the Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and is editor of Kidsburgh. I have two wonderful young children and am happily married. My interests include cooking, green-living, gardening, being in the outdoors, listening to great music, checking out the city's cool art, coming up with creative things to do with my kids, and having as many adventures as I can!
Nadine Champsi

1 Comment on Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy: Rebecca Covert and Firefly Arts

  1. Some readers have inquired why Firefly Arts feels comfortable using identity-first language as opposed to person-first language (‘autistic’ versus ‘person with autism’), and this article from the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network explains this decision better than we ever could:

    I took much time and care to decide what language was best for my family and best represented my organization, and no disrespect is intended. Please keep the dialogue open and consider both sides of the argument. As I’ve discussed with several parents concerned about this decision, I do believe it is truly up to the individual and the family what language best suits them.