Honoring A True Catalyst in Bernita Buncher & the Jack Buncher Foundation

A Note from Variety’s CEO, Charlie LaVallee.

Tyler uses his communication device to introduce himself to Bernita.

When I first started at Variety in 2012, I had an idea to provide adaptive bikes to kids with disabilities because they were missing out on the childhood milestone of riding bikes with friends and family.

When we kicked off My Bike in November 2012, I did not know if we would get to 50 bikes sponsored, but we excitingly got more than 200 bikes sponsored by Christmas that year!

One of the early believers in this idea was Bernita Buncher and the Jack Buncher Foundation, who have been life-changing supporters to Variety’s vision over the years, and they have truly helped us to enable kids with disabilities to live life to the fullest, and truly be kids.

Not only did Bernita and the Foundation support My Bike, but they also really took the time to understand and recognize the needs of our kids and their families in terms of mobility and communication equipment.

Miracle is all smiles as she sits on her new adaptive bike, as Bernita cheers her on.

Having recognized the need for adaptive strollers and communication devices, the Jack Buncher Foundation encouraged and supported Variety to launch its My Stroller and My Voice Programs in 2014.

As we celebrate the milestone of giving 4,000 kids an adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, and/or communication device, I cannot forget the recent passing of Bernita Buncher.

For it was her vision and commitment to the community that has helped to impact thousands of kids with disabilities at Variety.

Bernita had such a gentle and passionate spirit, and her openness to the kids and being changed by them was truly extraordinary to me. She inspired me personally to continue to do all that I could in my life to impact kids with disabilities.

As Bernita sought to carry on her father’s legacy of helping others, she truly created one of her own.

It was easy for me to see how much Bernita loved the kids, and nothing might show that better than when Cilla received her adaptive stroller at our 2015 Gala, where we also honored Bernita and the Jack Buncher Foundation. 

Cilla greets Bernita and thanks her for her new stroller.

Cilla just about leapt out of her stroller to throw her arms around Bernita’s neck, and thank her. This is a moment that will always stay with me because the pure joy between Bernita and Cilla was so genuine and beautiful.

Cill and Bernita share a joyful hug.

Bernita’s enduring legacy will live on through her absolute commitment to kids with disabilities (as well as many other passions), but I think her legacy also shines through the joy that she received back from the children, and it is something that I will always treasure.

All smiles for a group photo.

As we celebrate helping 4,000 kids and embark on reaching 5,000, I want to remember and honor Bernita Buncher because she truly helped us change kids’ lives and make life better for their families.

To me, Bernita showed us all the power of believing in something and acting on it.

Bernita helped so many in need, and for a lot her giving, she never wanted any recognition or acknowledgement – even though I wanted to celebrate her support from the mountain tops.

She simply wanted to help others and do good, and that knowledge was more than enough for her.

I sincerely give thanks to Bernita and the entire Jack Buncher Foundation for all that they have made possible for kids with disabilities.

Take good care,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity

Magical Moments w/ Quinn & A NEW YEAR SMILE!

“One is everything if it’s your one.”

KICKOFF 2021 SMILING alongside 3-year old Quinn, who is quickly discovering the magic of his new voice!

Quinn is pictured above – all smiles!

Quinn’s mom, Alisa shared,

“We’ve had the tablet for about a week or so now and it’s so amazing!!

The first time Quinn clicked on milk, and I got him some milk, his eyes lit up soo much because he realized I actually understood what he wanted!

It was a magical moment.

Quinn is pictured with his favorite pink cup!

And he always clicks the mom button with my picture, and then runs and gives me a hug… it’s sooo cute haha.

It’s crazy that he understands everything we are saying, but his diagnosis makes it so hard for him to get out the right sounds.

He definitely speaks sentences in his own language!

I just wish I could know all the cute things he is saying.

But now once he gets really good with this tablet, I will be able to hear the cute stuff that his brain is thinking, and I am so excited for that.

Quinn using his new voice to communicate!

Also, when he clicks the ‘My name is Quinn’ button, he smiles sooo big and we all go, YAYY!!

It makes him so incredibly happy, which also makes me even happier!

His speech therapist says that he figured out the device so fast that they started him with the whole screen filled with the categories!

He can navigate that thing way better than me haha.

I am so grateful and I seriously appreciate you so much for giving him this amazing gift, and may I add.. for free!!! I can’t thank you enough.”

… As I took in Alisa’s words about her son Quinn and his dramatic progress after only a few weeks with his new communication device, I was reminded of the words that Leo Gerard, USW International President Emeritus once said to me, “One is everything if it’s your one.”

I’m so excited for more magical moments like these for our amazing kids in the new year, so please keep smiling along with us!  

Have a great weekend,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity

Variety’s Mission & Work

Dear Variety Friends,

Variety Board Member Joyce Bender graciously had me on her radio show a few weeks ago to discuss Variety’s work and mission (including recent updates), and I thought it would be a great “refresher” for all of us to enjoy. You can see the full media release below or click on a link to listen now!

Here’s to a new year with great opportunity and the chance to change kids’ lives!

Take good care,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity


Disability Matters with Joyce Bender
Media Advisory
Available ON DEMAND if missed live@

https://open.spotify.com/show/2GA5Y37nK77tU4n7yXkNvD
https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/id419233724
https://www.voiceamerica.com/show/1315/disability-matters

Contact: Lee Hassinger
412-446-4450

Mission of Variety the Children’s Charity:

Joyce welcomes Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety the Children’s Charity to the show.  Variety the Children’s Charity is a non-profit organization that strives to enable children with disabilities to live life to the fullest with a focus on mobility, communication, and social interaction throughout 71 counties in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They will discuss the programs and services of this non-profit organization, and the importance of giving to this cause during the holiday season.

Bio of Charlie LaVallee:

  • Has worked for more than 30 years to raise awareness in the community of the issues of uninsured children and adults, grieving children and their families, children with special health care needs and their families, children who have been physically and/or sexually abused, and children who are homeless.
  • Previously served as the director of the Homeless Education Network (HEN).  HEN is a collaborative initiative of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund (HCEF) and seeks to advocate and develop resources for children and youth experiencing homelessness.
  • Has directed the Caring Program for Children, the first private sector initiative in the nation providing healthcare coverage for children in low income families who were ineligible for Medicaid.  By working with members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Governor’s Office, the Caring Program was used as the model for what is now known as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) of Pennsylvania.
  • Has also been involved extensively on a national platform creating and implementing the federal State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Joyce A. Bender Career Highlights:

  • Serves as president and CEO of Bender Consulting Services, Inc. – www.benderconsult.com.
  • Lives with epilepsy and a hearing loss.
  • Advocates for the competitive employment for people with disabilities.
  • Serves as vice-chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and former chair of the board.
  • Represented the US State Department on information exchanges on disability employment in Panama, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan and Tunisia.
  • Serves as chair of Epilepsy Association of Western and Central PA.
  • Received the 2003 New Freedom Initiative Award from the Bush Administration.
  • Recognized with the 1999 President’s Award from President Clinton.
  • Board member of Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera.
  • Board member of the Bazelon Center.
  • Newly appointed member of the board of the World Institute on Disability (WID).

Upcoming guest:

December 29, 2020
2020 Reflections and 2021 Goals for the Disability Community

Joyce welcomes two disability leaders, Maria Town, president and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities and  Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living to the show. The guests will discuss issues, accomplishments, and trends in the community to keep Joyce’s listeners appraised on what is happening on a national basis in the area of disability. They will reflect on the past COVID-19 year of 2020 and what to look forward to in 2021.

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Smiling Through A Mask

A SMILE can still shine bright through a mask, and we are so grateful for it!

As Variety keeps making an impact for kids with disabilities during the pandemic, we wanted to share a few smiles and stories with you. We hope you enjoy and can smile along with us.

MAKING JAYCEE’S HEART HAPPY

Can you feel Jaycee’s smile as she checks out her new bike?!

When 9-year old Jaycee received her new adaptive bike at PlayWorks in Morgantown, WV, she looked at me and exclaimed,

Yellow makes my heart happy. Yellow is like sunshine to me.”

Talk about getting to the heart of it with a few words!

VICTORIA & BROOKLYN CIRCLING THE HAND SANITIZER!

Victoria and Brooklyn became instant friends, as the two received their new bikes at the same time.

When 7-year old Victoria came to receive her new PINK adaptive bike, she didn’t know that she would also leave with a new friend in 7-year old Brooklyn.

Both girls received their new pink bikes at Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29 recently, and they bonded with joy over riding their new bikes through the hand sanitizer station… just kids, being kids.

Victoria’s mom Cassondra described how this bike would make a difference,

“Having an adaptive bike for Victoria would mean so much because she tries so hard to ride a standard bike, but she doesn’t have the muscle control to keep her feet on the pedals.

She also doesn’t have the balance to keep the bike from tipping over on turns.

Pedaling a bike would be great therapy for her legs.

We have been trying to ride a standard bike since she was 3 and just can’t get it.

Victoria would be so excited to finally be able to ride with her friends!”

Brooklyn’s mom Christina shared why this bike would be transformative,

An adaptive bike would mean the world to Brooklynn.

It would allow her to better keep up with her peers, and most importantly, with her older brother and sister.

In the summer, we take our children to a campsite at the beach, and all the children ride their bicycles over the campground’s flat paved paths. Brooklynn always wants to participate in this activity with her brother and sister, but because of her difficulties, she always ends up opting to stay back on site with apparent feeling ‘left out’.

Often her brother and sister will opt to stay back with her as they feel sorry for her.

I think an adaptive bike can help level the playing field for her, and in turn, will allow her to participate in activities with her family and friends.”

Stay tuned for more smiles.

HAPPINESS & HOPE

Happiness and Hope… these are two words we recently heard from parents that perfectly describe what our programs aim to provide for kids and their families!

MEET ADEM!

Adem is pictured above “all smiles” riding his first bike!

Last week, Adem received his second adaptive bike and adaptive stroller, and his dad Ahmet told us, “Adem loves his new bike and stroller. We really appreciate you for making this happen. There are just a few things making him very happy in his world and riding bike is absolutely on top of the list!”

Additionally, Adem’s mom Stephanie shared with us at the presentation, “Today means happiness because although my son cannot walk anymore, he loves riding his bike… It’s the thing that gives him the most happiness.”

MEET ROWEN!

Rowen is pictured above checking out her new set of wheels!

Additionally, Rowen received her first adaptive bike and adaptive stroller last week, and her mom Constance shared, ”Today means hope for what my daughter will be able to do now because of the bike and stroller. It also is freedom for her because she’ll be able to participate more.”

It’s all about happiness and hope for our kids and their families – thanks for sharing in the joy!

The conversation of a lifetime

Dear Variety Friends,

I thought you would enjoy this update as much as I did.

Last Sunday, November 29, Leo Gerard (United Steelworkers International President Emeritus) and I had the chance to speak with Tyler, and it was truly the conversation of a lifetime for both of us, as we talked so easily with him.

In case you need a refresher on Tyler’s journey, here are two segments by KDKA-TV:

Tyler is pictured above in 2017 using his device to ask his sisters if they would play a game.

It’s easy to forget that Tyler could only say two words when he received his communication device in 2017, but Tyler was talking to us with his own voice and it was crystal clear!

Leo told him how he was the inspiration for helping all these other kids receive a communication device, and that he had changed our lives for the better.

Tyler was speaking to us with no hint that he ever had a communication disorder or had speech therapy (which he doesn’t have anymore). It was an incredible moment in the midst of a pandemic, especially when Tyler said, I love you Leo and Charlie.”

During our conversation on Sunday, Tyler’s mom, Jen said, “We thought Tyler would always need to use the device,” but now he doesn’t need it all! Hearing your child speaking with their own voice… there really aren’t any words to express how wonderful that is to a parent.

Pictured above is Leo holding Tyler on June 6, 2017 when he received his communication device at USW Headquarters, and at that time, Tyler could only speak two words.

We are truly privileged to help kids and their families in this way, and it is even more critical that we renew ourselves to this work at this time, especially with our kids facing so many more challenges to their progress and education.

Here’s one last smile.

For his 9th birthday in August, the gift Tyler wanted most was the tower of terror Lego set, and that’s what he got.

Check out his finished creation below and grin!

Tyler is proudly smiling above at his accomplishment!

 

Take good care,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity

Young Man Inspires Us w/ 100 Laughs

For one comedic young man living with disabilities, the pandemic has allowed him to find a niche in sharing his jokes and smile with us all – that is 24-year old Variety Ambassador and Joker Extraordinaire, Jacob Buchheit!

Screenshots of some of Jacob’s jokes.

Today at 4:00pm, Jacob will celebrate his 100th joke on our Facebook page (or YouTube page if you don’t use FB), and I hope you’ll join us in recognizing his achievement and sharing in his laughter!

At any time, but let alone these times, we shouldn’t minimize the moments of joy and laughter that we receive, especially as a community – and Jacob’s humor and own laughter at the end of every joke are sure to make you smile.

Another screenshot of some of Jacob’s jokes.

As we celebrate Joke 100, Jacob’s mom, Eileen and brother, Evan shared their perspectives on what Jokes with Jacob has meant to Jake and the greater community – click here to watch.

To emphasize what Evan describes, each of Jacob’s jokes on Facebook receive comments from people, but here are a few that really stand out:

  • “Your smile brings me hope every day…”
  • “When I am down in the dumps. I see a new joke. I then start smiling. Thanks Jacob I really needed that today.”
  • “Thanks for putting a smile on my face…your jokes are the best….”
  • “Thank you….I’m smiling!”
  • “Thank you again for the smiles….I need them.”
  • “I’ve been having a rough week and you just put a smile on my face…thanks buddy.”
A few more screenshots of Jaocb’s jokes.

I hope you’ll tune in at 4:00PM this afternoon to catch Jacob’s 100th joke on our FB page – and let’s keep on smiling!

A Thankful Heart

To keep it short and sweet, we are thankful.

Thankful to keep presenting life-changing equipment during a pandemic, and we couldn’t have done it without you!

A grateful smile for your support.

By simply reading these emails, you’re helping to understand and celebrate our extraordinary kids, and for those that can do more, it truly makes a tremendous impact on our work.

Though this year’s Thanksgiving won’t be the same for any of us, please let us remind you how much you matter to all of us at Variety!

Amazon & Variety

Variety is a participating charity for the Amazon Smile Foundation, and it’s an easy way to support us!

In order for Variety to get a donation from Amazon, the customer must use the Amazon Smile website and designate Variety.

Just something to keep in mind and share with your friends or family!

Good News Train – CHOO, CHOO!

Some good news to bring a smile to your faces.

Over the last three weeks, we’ve safely held seven presentations with our incredible community partners to distributed more than 40 adaptive bikes and adaptive strollers!

A big shout out to our partners that graciously hosted and made these presentations safe and happen, including:  Central Intermediate IU 10, Capital Area IU 15, Carbon Lehigh IU 21, Appalachia IU 8, PlayWorks in Morgantown, Central Susquehanna IU 16, and Blackburn’s.

CAMRYN’S NEW ADAPTIVE BIKE & ADAPTIVE STROLLER!

Pictured above is Camryn on her bike (left) and stroller (right) surrounded by her family – can you see her smile?!

13-year old Camryn from State College, PA received her second adaptive bike and new adaptive stroller, and her mom, Rosanne told us how much this bike truly means,

“For Camryn to have an adaptive bike in a larger size, it will continue to give her the feelings of independence and accomplishment when riding her bike alongside her older sister. It provides great joy and exercise for her. It allows her to be outside like every other kid – to do what kids do. Camryn loves the freedom it gives to her and we, her parents, love to see her huge smile when she is on her bike.”

Rosanne also described what difference the stroller will make,

“Camryn loves to be on the go, but due to her low tone, she wears out quickly and cannot keep up on a family walk – even if it is only around a block.

Not only that, but an adaptive stroller would allow us to keep her safe in crowds and places unknown to Camryn. It would be of great use when she tires, to allow us as a family to continue to do more and go places in the community/vacation, where as if she had to walk, we wouldn’t be able to go as she is getting too heavy and too lanky to carry.

Having an adaptive stroller would provide our family great freedom to do things, see places, and create memories as a family.”

A COLLAGE OF KIDS RECEIVING EQUIPMENT RECENTLY!

A lot of beautiful smiles above!

BREANN’S NEW ADAPTIVE BIKE!

Breann is checking out her new set of wheels!

5-year old Breann from Morgantown, WV received her new adaptive bike last Thursday, and her mom, Sandra told us how much this bike truly means, “My brother has a bike from the program and I never thought that he would be able to ride one. My daughter loves watching her uncle ride, and I would love to see her get one and ride it with him.

Sandra’s brother and Breann’s uncle, Nicholas received his adaptive bike through Variety in 2017!

That’s all from the “GOOD NEWS TRAIN” for now, but we’ll be rolling through again soon, so stay tuned for more smiles!

P.S. Do you want to share in more smiles? You can check out some of the recent media that we received from our distributions to see and read more about the impact of this equipment (https://www.varietypittsburgh.org/news/).