Local icon Trina Thomas Losinno loses cancer battle

Loss of a le­gend: Trina Thomas Losinno, co-founder of Spe­cial People In North­east Inc, died on April 2. As an edu­cat­or, she worked with chil­dren and adults with dis­ab­il­it­ies for the past 44 years.

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.

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