A Pandemic Is Scary. Even Scarier Without A Voice.
The pandemic has caused a lot of changes, especially to the way Variety reaches eligible kids and distributes equipment. However, as soon as these changes needed to be implemented in March, we got to work and we haven’t stopped since, especially to provide kids with a voice.
I hope you can take a few moments to read some recent stories of how we are changing the lives of our kids and their families through THE GIFT OF COMMUNICATION!
Presley’s New Voice
Presley’s family told us what this device would mean, “A communication device will help Presley by aiding her to express her needs more clearly and helping our family to better understand her so that we may meet these needs to the best of our ability. We also feel that the device will help Presley learn new vocabulary and apply it in situations in which she might otherwise not be able to.”
John Immediately Asked For A Drink!
His SLP, Lucy shared, “John’s device was delivered today. John and his mom were both very excited! He told her ‘drink’- went to get a drink container from the fridge, and then said ‘please drink’ on the device. We were both so happy!! Above is a picture of him with his drink!”
A Device Allows Eli to be Heard & Understood
Eli’s SLP, Katie told us, “Elijah will be delighted to be able to communicate with his family. He gets very frustrated when trying to let us know what he needs. He is a very friendly person and loves to interact with us and I believe this device will enable him request what he wants without us having to narrow down what he is requesting.”
What do you think Aiden requested first with his device?
You’ll love what Aiden’s SLP, Jennifer shared with us, “After only a few minutes of me demonstrating with mom and giving her instructions, Aiden spontaneously approached the device and requested to “go” and when asked where… he requested “trampoline”. So of course, we went outside and he was happy as can be. On behalf of his family… thank you so much for the gift of voice for Aiden.”
THANK YOU for sharing in these special moments and being part of Variety’s team.
Nonstop Impact in August & September!
Things look a lot different this October than they did last year.
However, one thing that hasn’t changed is the impact that Variety is creating for kids with disabilities by providing them with customized adaptive bikes, adaptive strollers, and communication devices!
I hope you can take a few minutes to read some recent stories of how we are changing the lives of our kids and their families through THE GIFT OF MOBILITY!
“The best day of my life.” – Arabella’s dad
After 5-year old Arabella received her new adaptive bike (pictured above), her dad Doug was overcome with gratitude, as he said, “This is awesome, this is the best day of my life right now, absolutely. THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE. This is going to raise Arabella’s spirits so high. This little girl is going to feel like she is part of everybody else. When we wanted to go for bike rides, she would have to ride in the buggy. Now she can ride her bike.”
Check out Arabella riding in this piece by WNEP-TV: https://www.wnep.com/article/news/local/lycoming-county/kids-in-lycoming-county-receive-adaptive-bikes/523-81ab322d-fb6a-44ee-8b26-27c008f0f1fe
“Can we ride all day?” – Blayne
12-year old Blayne had an extra-special day as he started high school, and then after going to school, he got to ride his new bike for the very first time. He said to his mom as he rode around the parking lot, ”Can we ride all day?”
His mom Ashley described how much this bike would mean by saying, “This will be life-changing. He wants to be independent and he will be able to ride with his friends and brothers (Blayne is a twin) and, as a family, we love the outdoors and we love riding bikes.”
Read more about Blayne in this Northcentral PA news article – https://www.northcentralpa.com/news/local/local-childrens-groups-hold-equipment-giveaway-for-kids-with-disabilities/article_49b649ac-eb91-11ea-86a7-17d4540ba367.html
New Found Freedom for Natalie & Samantha
Pictured above are Samantha on the yellow bike and Natalie on the pink bike. Two of Samantha’s siblings received bikes last month, and now they will all be able to ride together.
Natalie’s mother, Ranah, reminded us of how important inclusion and accomplishment are, when she said, “We want Natalie to be able to do what any other kid can do, and now she can do it.”
We’ll name it, “Big Blue!”
When 15-year old Justan received his new adaptive stroller (pictured above), his mom Megan shared, “He can only walk about 20 feet with his walker. He is a very social boy who loves to be out. The stroller will allow us to safely and easily transport him. It is lightweight enough for us to handle, yet strong enough to support his thighs and weight. He feels safe in it and has named it ‘BIG BLUE’. . . I could just cry I am so happy for him.”
THANK YOU for sharing in the joy of our families!
WITH GREAT JOY, VARIETY ISN’T SLOWING DOWN DURING THE PANDEMIC!
Over the last few weeks, we distributed 12 adaptive bikes and 7 adaptive strollers (worth $32,100), and then fit 10 more kids for their bikes (the last step before ordering)!
Please take two-minutes to CHECK OUT THESE SMILES AND STORIES!
June 30th at the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV:
3-year old Sebastian (pictured above) could not wait for his new lime green adaptive bike. His mom, Andrea explained how much it meant, “Sebastian is very outgoing and active and loves to spend time with his siblings and cousins, doing things that normal children do, like riding bikes. It will be a great exercise for Sebastian, but not only that, it will also make him feel included and grant him some independence when we go walking/biking as a family. It will be a lot more fun to him than just sitting in a stroller or wheelchair.”
With his new bike (made individually for him), Sebastian won’t miss out on the feelings of freedom, joy, and fun that come with riding a bike. He’ll just be one of the kids.
July 7th at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7:
16-year old Hannah (pictured above on her new red bike with some of the other recipients) received her 2nd adaptive bike, and her mom, Beth Telford explained how much impact the bike has created for Hannah and their entire family,
“Hannah is so happy when she rides her adaptive Rifton tricycle that she received from Variety in 2013. It is a wonderful means for exercise as well as having fun with her brothers and me. Hannah is very proud of herself when she’s on her bike. She sings, in her own way, and smiles the entire time.
Having a bike to take with us when we go camping makes our family camping trips so much more special as she can get around the campground like her brothers and the other kids there. Biking is a fun, family activity that creates strong bodies and good moments which become good memories.”
Did you know that after 3 years, Variety allows eligible families to reapply for a new bike? It has been a joy to see kids like Hannah, and so many others receive their second bike – knowing that the first has brought them years of pure joy!
Read more about the day at WIU7 in this terrific article by TribLive: https://triblive.com/local/valley-news-dispatch/adaptive-bikes-strollers-devices-unlock-new-potential-for-westmoreland-county-children/
July 27th at the Capital Area Intermediate Unit:
For 14-year old Katie (pictured above), Monday meant freedom and fun when she received her new PINK adaptive bike. Her mom, Mary told us, “Katie has a Rifton bike on loan to use at her school for physical therapy. Katie loves the bike as it makes her feel independent as well as normal. If Katie had a Rifton bike to use at home, she would be able to use it when our family goes on walks, hikes at the local state park, and provide some physical exercise and hopefully increase her desire to be outside more.”
We were grateful to have ABC27-News join us for the distribution and featuring Katie’s bid day! Check out what Katie is most excited about in this 1-minute piece: https://www.abc27.com/news/pennsylvania/kids-with-disabilities-receive-new-adaptive-bikes/
With partners like MIU4, WIU7, CAIU, Blackburn’s (and so many more), we are continuing to make an impact for kids with disabilities and their families!
Thank you all for sharing in the joy and supporting our important work to help kids, be kids!
5-year old Mikey received his new communication device on June 9, 2020 through Variety’s My Voice® Program!
On June 18th, Mikey’s mom, Laura wrote and told us, “Getting familiar with Mikey’s new device this morning! I am letting him choose the words then we have a conversation about them. The more we do this, the more he will become familiar with it and our conversations will start to take shape! This is beyond exciting for us.
We now have a way to help him express himself. This is the greatest gift. We are so thankful for his speech therapist who took the time to program this device for him and came to the house to help us get a good start. We are also so thankful for Variety – the Children’s Charity of Pittsburgh for working with us to get him this! We are just overwhelmed with gratitude.”
Then, we got a second update on July 14th, and Laura said, “We are so thankful for all of you! We are still learning a lot, but he found his favorite tv show all by himself the other day and screamed with delight! He was able to ask us for the exact show he wanted to watch. It was the best feeling to see him so elated. It made my mama heart burst.”
Can you feel her joy in those words?
In the midst of a pandemic, Variety continues to make a difference for kids with disabilities, and because of our grant through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development, Mikey now has a voice.
61 kids in Schuylkill County CELEBRATED with TRUE FREEDOM this weekend after recently receiving their new adaptive bikes, adaptive strollers, and/or communication devices!
These 61 kids have the FREEDOM to ride a bike and gain independence, have the FREEDOM to get out in the community easily and safely with their stroller, and have the FREEDOM of a voice with their device. PROVIDING FREEDOM is at the core of what we are giving our kids and their families, and I hope you’ll take a few moments to share in these life-changing moments!
Lyla, age 13 received an adaptive bike:
“Very happy that I finally have that chance to ride a bike and just be happy. Like normal kids because I can’t do a lot of things that normal kids can do,” said Lyla in an interview with WBRE-TV.
You don’t want to miss the full interview to hear more from Lyla and her Grandmother, Sharon, so click below:
Kareem, age 10 received an adaptive bike:
WNEP-TV also joined us, as Kareem and other kids received their new bikes! Kareem’s mom told WNEP, “This opens up a whole new world for him to be able to go out and socialize and play with other kids. He can’t ride a regular bike, so this is helping him to go out with his brothers and have a good time that he can’t do without it honestly.”
Click here to see the full piece and watch Kareem ride his bike for the first time: https://www.wnep.com/article/news/local/schuylkill-county/charity-adapts-bikes-to-assist-children-with-disabilities/523-e6165b8d-54eb-436a-b0b9-cf78fcbf3650
At our core, we want to give kids freedom, and these smiles by The Shenandoah Sentinel truly captures the joy of the day for Kaylonie and Anayamarie!
IT’S ALL FOR THE KIDS!
We’re thrilled to share more smiles with you, as we continue to MAKE IT WORK FOR THE KIDS!
In the last week, we partnered with Intermediate Unit 1, the Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8, and Blackburn’s to present 15 adaptive bikes and 10 adaptive strollers to kids in Washington, Fayette, Greene, Blair, Bedford, Cambria, and Somerset Counties, and more from the Wheeling, WV region! Providing the kids with adaptive bikes and strollers is especially meaningful in the midst of a pandemic.
Hunter, age 4 from Fayette County received an adaptive stroller:
The pure JOY on Hunter’s face is truly captivating, and his mom, Abby powerfully explains why an adaptive stroller is truly life-changing for her son. “Walking Long distances for Hunter is very tiring and sometimes painful. An adaptive stroller will provide Hunter with some independence while still being able to rest when he needs it.” Abby’s words are a reminder that an adaptive stroller is critical for a variety of kids with a variety of needs.
Silas, age 7 from Washington County received an adaptive bike:
If you look closely, you can see Silas smiling underneath his mask, as well as his awesome shark helmet! His mom, Jolene told us why this bike is important and needed for her son,
“At the present time, Silas is unable to ride bikes and interact with his peers and sibling. Silas cannot ride a traditional bike due to his fragility, rods in his legs, and the added physical stress and fracture risk it involves.
As Silas is unable to participate in most sports / physical activities, this will be the main way for him to get physical exercise.”
Anaea, age 17 from Bedford County got fit for her new adaptive bike:
It was a very special day for Anaea, who got fit for her new adaptive bike (the last step before we can order it), and her mom, Julie told The Altoona Mirror how much this bike would mean, “We are a very active family and like to go on walks and Anaea comes along,” Julie said. “We also like to run and ride bikes and someone would have to stay behind with Anaea, but now we can all go out together.”
Read more in the full article by The Altoona Mirror: https://www.altoonamirror.com/news/local-news/2020/06/pittsburgh-charity-helps-to-provide-special-bikes/
Noah, age 6 from Bedford County received an adaptive bike:
“Noah loves spending time with his older brother Kaden. Unfortunately, Kaden loves to ride his bike all over the back-parking lot. Noah tries very hard to join in, but he can’t stay on the bike seat on his regular bike. He has a hard time balancing and can’t push the peddles to make it move.
At school, he uses an adaptive bike and does very well with it. His therapist has shared with us that he is so proud of himself when he can do it on his own. He is a 6 year old little boy who doesn’t get to ride bikes with his older brother or go on bike rides with us.
I want to see that smile on his face.”
WTAJ-TV also joined us for yesterday’s distribution, and you don’t want to miss seeing Dominic trialing an adaptive bike, or his aunt and cousins say how much it will mean to them all. Click here to watch and enjoy: https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/kids-with-special-needs-receive-free-adaptive-bikes-strollers/
Stay tuned for more smiles because over the next few weeks, we have distribution events scheduled with Schuylkill IU29, Midwestern IU4, Westmoreland IU7, and Blackburn’s!
IT’S ALL FOR THE KIDS!
Dear Variety Friends:
I trust you and your family are all safe and well during this challenging time.
As I take time to reflect, I am truly grateful for all your support over the years and for believing in our work to change the lives of kids with disabilities.
With thanks, I want to send you a series of emails (starting with part 1 today) about the impact we’re having during the pandemic because I thought you would especially appreciate it.
In the midst of this pandemic, I have been inspired and had my life changed by a 17-year old named Corey, who is unstoppable!
This is one of the most incredible stories I have ever shared with you and amazing on many levels. I am sorry it is long… but I guarantee that you will be so grateful that you took in the whole story.
Corey receives therapy services and educational programming at Leg Up Farm in York County, Pa.
He had never ridden an adaptive bike until he rode one at Leg Up Farm.
Ever since, he wanted to have one at home, and he was scheduled to receive an adaptive bike and communication device at Leg Up Farm on April 3rd. Every day, he would ask his Speech Language Pathologist, Lu, “Is my bike there? Is my bike there?”
Corey’s mom, Michelle said that she and her husband (retired army) both love riding bikes, and were excited about the possibility of being able to ride with Corey as a family.
This opportunity to ride together has even more importance because Michelle is battling cancer and currently receiving chemotherapy. She wanted Corey to get the bike while she was healthy enough to ride with him.
April 3, 2020:
The presentation at Leg Up Farm was cancelled because of the pandemic.
Michelle was disappointed about having to wait for the bike, but also that Corey would not receive his communication device because, “Corey is partially verbal – he tries to say everything he reads and tries to communicate, but it is hard to understand him, which is where the device really helps him.”
April 9, 2020:
Michelle approached Lu, who called us, and with Corey’s Occupational Therapist, Nicole, and the leadership of Leg Up Farm, we created a way for Corey and other kids to receive communication devices and adaptive bikes in the middle of the pandemic!
May 9, 2020:
The Saturday before Mother’s Day, Corey received his new communication device thanks to a Special Delivery by Lu to his home.
May 15, 2020:
Corey received his adaptive bike at Leg Up Farm.
Michelle said, “Thanks to the bike and the device, Corey is making connections with neighbor kids he didn’t have before. This has meant the world to him. He just spent the last two hours playing with kids he has never played with before until now, and they live right around us.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2020:
Corey’s SLP Lu sent us an update, “I am just amazed at how he has blossomed in the last couple days with both the bike and the talker. He so desperately wants to have friends and that bike has given him a way to meet them. Instead of just watching them, now he is joining in. Variety didn’t just give him a bike, it opened up a whole new world for him. Variety has truly made a difference in his life!”
Check this out – here’s a video that Corey filmed himself from a Zoom meeting with Lu and his mom.
And to top it all off!
After only having his device for 10 days and his bike for 5 days, Lu said, “It really was wonderful to see him being so independent with his device. He knew exactly what he wanted to tell you and he wanted to do it completely by himself. Now that he’s seeing just how much he can do by himself, he is gonna be unstoppable!”
Does it honestly get much better than this – that in the midst of a pandemic, in partnership with the therapist and his parents, Corey is becoming empowered to live a dramatically different life.
COREY, THE UNSTOPPABLE… I love it!
Take good care,
Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity
WE ARE GRATEFUL TO RICKY and our partners at Blackburn’s, who are helping us make sure other kids can get their new adaptive bikes during the pandemic!
I hope you’ll check out this 1-minute video that we put together to thank 10-year old Ricky and highlight how grateful we are for his help! Wait until you hear Ricky at the end of the video. It truly knocked me out with joy!
Ricky continues to give back, as his mom, Michelle told us, “Ricky has been so excited about his bike. He gave his 2 wheeler with training wheels to his friend that lives across the street. Now, they can ride together and Ricky is just one of the kids. This is a game changer for him!”
With great joy, one of our Central Pa. partners are using the training videos to safely give out 5 adaptive bikes this week!
We’re jumping for joy to continue our work of impacting kids with disabilities!
On Monday, April 27th, Variety (excitingly) took steps to safely roll out a process to present adaptive bikes to eligible kids with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We did it with the help of Blackburn’s and Ricky – one very special 10-year old, who not only got his new adaptive bike, but also helped us film a “how to” video for bikes to be presented remotely.
For Ricky, this adaptive bike is not only life-changing, but thrilling. His mom, Michelle told us,
“Ricky is jumping up and down with pure joy! He’s not only excited that he will receive his bike on Monday, but he’s also thrilled that he gets to be a model for the video and ultimately make sure more kids like him can get their bikes during this time! He’s already picking out his outfit and mask to wear on Monday. Overall, Ricky has had a very challenging life, especially early on. He has 9 medical diagnosis, including autism, chromosome deletion, and low muscle tone. This bike is going to transform him!”
Michelle went further to say, “This time with the pandemic is especially hard because Ricky doesn’t understand why he can’t go to school. Why he can’t play with kids in the neighborhood. Why he can’t go to Walmart.” Overall, this pandemic has been especially difficult on kids with special needs.
Well, Ricky now has the chance to ride a bike, especially during this time and feel more like a kid! His mom, Michelle sent us this photo of him riding it and added, “He went on three bike rides on our street last night! I walked 3,000 steps – per my FitBit – behind the bike! …He’s a happy boy!”
Through Ricky’s incredible help, we will be able to have a bike safety video for Physical / Occupational Therapists to utilize, so that Variety can continue to present other adaptive bikes to kids safely/responsibly during this time throughout our 71-county service area.
Regarding the safety video, Ricky said, “I felt happy doing it. I’m going to make kids happy and safe!”
Even if it’s one child at a time, we’re committed to providing adaptive equipment to kids with disabilities, especially now!
Variety was fortunate to be a guest on the Pittsburgh Technology Council’s podcast, Tech Vibe Radio, hosted by PTC’s Audrey Russo and Jonathan Kersting, who help make technology relatable to us all.
The two masterfully highlight what our My Voice® Program is all about and the impact that it is having for kids and families, so please don’t miss listening to Health Care Reinvented: My Voice Program – start listening and get inspired!
Not sure what to expect from the episode? Here’s how PTC describes it:
We couldn’t be more excited to release the next episode of Health Care Reinvented with Allegheny Health Network and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
This episode overviews the My Voice® Program with Charlie LaVallee of Variety detailing how cutting-edge technology is giving children who cannot speak a voice! It’s hard to imagine a child that is hungry and can’t ask food or a child that is hurting and cannot ask for help.
Listen to how the My Voice Program is putting powerful communications tools into children’s hands and giving them the ability to speak. Charlie has several heart-felt examples of the program making a life-altering difference for the children and their families.
A massive thanks to the Pittsburgh Technology Council (especially Audrey and Jonathan) for supporting and believing in our work, as well as Highmark and the Allegheny Health Network, who helped to make this opportunity possible.