On April 2, 2014, Northeast Philadelphia lost an icon. Trina Thomas Losinno fought a courageous battle with cancer. She fought with gentleness and strength, just as she fought for education and inclusion for children and adults with disabilities, in our community, for the past 44 years.
Trina was co-founder of Special People In Northeast Inc. (SPIN). She began her career as a special educator at the Torresdale School, a small brick schoolhouse on Convent Lane, with people who had the goal of teaching children with disabilities the skills they needed to be fully involved and respected citizens in an era that did not recognize this capacity.
Many children passed through Miss Thomas’ classroom but did not leave until they could learn valuable life skills, manners and, of course, how to write their name. When they needed activities for the summer to help maintain these skills, Trina and her husband David eagerly became involved in the development of a camp, Camp SPIN, which evolved to be a multifaceted organization supporting thousands of individuals over decades, working tirelessly on behalf of their rights.
In the words of Councilman Dennis O’Brien, “Trina changed thousands of lives, including mine. She taught me how to listen to people and their families and stressed that every person is entitled to dream big dreams and realize them.”
During the era when physicians were still advising parents to place their babies in institutions, Trina and David set out to teach parents that they were their baby’s best educators and that home was the right place for their baby. A proposal was submitted for a federal grant that was accepted, and SPIN became a direct federal grantee with its P.E.E.R.S. program (Parents are Effective Early Education Resources). This resulted in years of them spending Saturdays in the donated space of the basement of St. Jerome’s church with young parents to teach them skills and early intervention strategies to use with their babies and toddlers with disabilities. The little ones were also present as Trina worked with teen volunteers and college students, teaching them how to interact, engage and teach language and motor skills.
As executive director for SPIN, Trina led the quality initiatives that resulted in the organization receiving numerous accolades and awards locally and nationally for program quality. Trina also served on boards, professional organizations, and committees throughout the city and state, most notably serving as chairwoman for the Pennsylvania Association of Resources, as she sought to make the world a better place for children and adults with disabilities.
In 2010, Trina received PAR’s Humanitarian Award. Trina served on the board of the PAR for 11 years and was named president of the Association in 2004. Trina also served on the Pennsylvania Interagency Coordinating Council for Early Intervention Services, being the professional co-chair for several years. Additionally, she was an instructor at Holy Family University for 10 years.
The history that we know and love at SPIN involves Trina’s determination, hard work, creativity, vision of hope and service to others. Trina was the heart of the dynamic inspiration behind the development of SPIN programs.
While Trina certainly devoted herself to her work at SPIN, her work at home embraced the lives of her five children, Christopher, Jennifer, Jonathan, Rebecca and Ryan. It was with great joy that she spent her brief years in retirement with her grandchildren Ethan, Sophia, Aidan and Kate. Trina was the quintessential grandmom: quilting, baking, celebrating and establishing wonderful and exciting traditions that will live on in the hearts of family and friends.
Kathy Brown McHale, SPIN president and CEO, said, “Trina touched so many lives in so many ways. Through Trina’s example, she taught and inspired us to trust our dreams, work hard so all people have the opportunity for a full life, and to leave the world a better place.”
When David and Trina retired in 2011, David was interviewed by the Northeast Times and said his lifetime at SPIN resulted in a fulfilling life for him and Trina. “We made the world a little better in Northeast Philadelphia.”
How lucky this community has been to have Trina as a champion. She is loved, respected and will be sorely missed. ••
Judy Dotzman is SPIN’s executive director. Mindy Lederhandler Lutts is its corporate officer for organizational development.