Every Child Deserves A Voice 24/7

Have you communicated with someone today?

The reality for many of our kids is that they are living without a voice, and are not able to communicate their needs, wants, or feelings. Just imagine that for a second.

That’s why I’m so proud that our My Voice® Program is giving kids a tool to communicate 24/7 because communication is vital to daily life.

LET’S PAUSE & SMILE FOR BEN!

“I can already tell that it’s going to be a game changer for all of us.” That’s what Susan shared a couple months after her son, Ben received his new communication device (or talker)!

Susan then described a time when Ben used his talker to tell her, “I’m tired,” which she thought was odd at the time because he never expressed that feeling before, but he ended up sound asleep by 6:30pm and he slept THE WHOLE NIGHT.

Susan said, He must have been tired! But I was so floored and touched and borderline emotional that he expressed that to me.”

LET’S ALSO SMILE FOR KEVIN!!

Kevin’s mom, LaVelle shared one very special moment that happened,

“I looked at Kevin and said, ‘I love you, buddy,’ and he took his talker, oriented himself towards me, and he used it to reply, ‘I love you more!’

Then, without skipping a beat, Kevin put down his talker and threw his arms around my neck and hugged me to demonstrate what he just said.”

Lavelle shared another experience, “Kevin indicated that he needed to go potty with sign language. I kind of dismissed it, but he made it very clear using his talker that he had to go potty now!…

I love that I can now communicate with my son, but more importantly, he can communicate with me!”

These kids are so special, and some just need a way to connect and let people connect with them, and My Voice is giving them that opportunity.

Benson Chose A BLUE BIKE w/ His Talker!

This is Giving Kids the Power to Choose and Express Themselves… Kids Like Benson.

4-year old Benson was recently fit / measured for his new adaptive bike AND adaptive stroller at the Tuscarora IU 11, and it was a beautiful day (see photos below).

Benson also has a communication device (or talker) from Variety that he received more than a year ago, and it has truly given him a voice.

When his mom, Hilary asked him how he felt riding the bike, he used his talker to exclaim, ”HAPPY!”

When it was time to get off the bike, his mom asked, ”How are you feeling?”, and Benson quickly replied via his talker, “Want more! Want more!”

So, we let him take another loop, but before he was finished, I got to hear Benson use his talker to CHOOSE BLUE for the color of his new bike!

We find it thrilling that Benson was able to communicate his feelings immediately in the moment because he had his talker (his voice)…

These talkers are truly opening up a whole new world for our kids and their families, and they’re giving children the power to choose for themselves without frustration.

That is a beautiful thing.

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

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!

It’s A BIG DEAL for Mia & Jayla

A MAJOR UPDATE ON MIA!

Mia is pictured above with her device and favorite book!

A few weeks ago, Mia’s mom, Anita shared this exciting update, “I wanted to check in and share some Mia progress, from a proud Mommy. In less than two years, Mia went from nonverbal to reading. We hope this gives you inspiration to keep doing what you’re doing because it all started with a device to give her language.”

DOES IT GET ANY BETTER?

Anita went even further to share a video of Mia showing off her reading skills, and we hope that you can take in how big this is for Mia and her family!

Click here to watch Mia reading Peppa Pig’s “The Best Pet”… with her OWN VOICE!

A BIG MOMENT FOR JAYLA!

Jayla is pictured above – taking her device everywhere!

Having a voice of her own is also a big deal for Jayla and her family. Before receiving her new communication device at the beginning of October, Jayla’s mom, Stephanie explained what it would mean, “This would make a huge impact on our family. We are a low income family with 4 kids, and my husband, who supports the household is a cancer patient currently in remission. We desperately need our little girl to have a voice to help her with the frustration and disappointment of not being understood. It would mean the world to us.”

Two weeks after Jayla received her new voice, Stephanie wrote to us on Facebook with the photos above and this update, “Thank you so much! Jayla is so excited to have her voice! She couldn’t wait to show her friends she can talk to them now!”

For Mia and Jayla, having a communication device is a really big deal. It gives them a voice and another tool in their toolbox to live life to the fullest.

A Voice Means Everything In A Pandemic

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 and her dad pictured above.

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!

John and his mom pictured above.

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 pictured above with his device!

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?

Aiden pictured above.

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.

Mikey’s New Voice: “It made my Momma heart BURST!”

Mikey is all smiles pictured above.

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.”

Mikey again with his communication device.

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.

PART 3: “Making an Impact in the Midst of a Pandemic”

Dear Variety Friends,

Can you please take a moment to step into our kids’ shoes? What if you could not communicate? What would your life be like if you could not speak and say what you’re thinking or feeling…

For me personally, I’m amazed that I can still take the gift of speech and communication for granted, even though I am hearing their stories every day.

Watching these kids and their families be so excited has reminded me of the great gift this equipment is to them and how critical our mission is for their lives.

Honestly, I’m sometimes ashamed of myself that I take communication for granted.

As I’ve heard the response about the need and importance of a communication device, I keep asking myself, if this was my 4-year old granddaughter, what would I want people to do for her?

The answer to that is that I should be doing for our kids, whatever it is what I would want others to do for her.

I hope you’ll share in a few stories about the impact of a communication device for our kids and their families.

Dresden, age 4 from Allegheny County:

After receiving his NEW VOICE recently, Dresden’s mom, Brandi sent us an update:

I included a video of Dresden putting together his first sentence on his own to tell us what he wanted for dinner. It was a pretty awesome experience for us. Thank you again for the opportunity to give him a chance to express himself.”

Click here to hear what Dresden requested for dinner (hint, it is a favorite for many kids… and adults). Don’t miss his giggle of joy at the end for being HEARD.

Isabella (Izzy), age 15 from Carbon County:

Pure excitement above as Isabella checks out her new device for the first time!

Isabella’s Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) from the Carbon Lehigh IU#21 sent us some awesome photos and a beautiful update explaining,

“We took some photos of Isabella getting her words last week!! She was so happy and confused at the same time. The smiles came when she found her name programmed in the device ‘My name is Isabella Lopez’, and then put the strap around her! Truly was an amazing moment!

Below is when she realizes that the device has HER WORDS on it!

A happy Izzy is pictured below with HER TEAM, including (left to right) her SLP Alix, her Social Worker Angelique, her teacher Donna, and her aide Heather.

The last few months, I’ve had the pleasure to speak with dozens of SLP’s and parents, and it’s been incredibly meaningful to hear their pure excitement about their kids receiving a communication device, especially during the pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, Variety has provided more than 100 communication devices to kids with another 40 devices in the process of being presented! None of which would be possible without our incredible partners, and especially, the SLP’s.

I’m grateful for your support and for taking a few minutes to step in our kids’ shoes.

Take good care,

Charlie

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

PART 2: “Making an Impact in the Midst of a Pandemic”

Dear Variety Friends,

100 KIDS HAVE RECEIVED THEIR NEW VOICES!

In the midst of the pandemic, Variety has provided 100 communication devices (so far) to kids who are nonverbal or have a communication disorder through our special delivery process!

Check out some of the highlights so far, and share in what a communication device means for the kids and their families.

Kozmo, age 5 from Dauphin County:

Kozmo is pictured above receiving his new device!

After delivering Kozmo’s new voice to him, Karen, his Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit told us,

He had been using 80-85 words on a device at school, so when he saw HIS words on his device, he started jumping up and down with joy, as dad showed it to him for the first time. You can’t see it, but he has a big smile underneath his mask.”

Karen also noted, What if you couldn’t talk anywhere you went throughout your day and could only point to things? Communication is everything. Every parent wants to communicate with their child.”

After receiving the device, the family went straight home, where Kozmo started to use it right away, saying, “Mom, grandma, and cookie.”

Kozmo’s mom called the device “a God-send in the midst of the pandemic,” as she can move from a mind reader to truly knowing what her child likes. For example, she recently learned that Kozmo likes blueberries through device!

Emmanuel, age 6 from Westmoreland County:

Pictured above is Margaret delivering Emmanuel’s device.

Margaret, Emmanuel’s SLP from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit 3 was thrilled to deliver his new communication device to the family’s home!

Emmanuel’s family later wrote saying, “He loves his device! I am so excited to see how he will grow with it.” Margaret has already received multiple videos of him talking about all of his favorite animals using his new voice!

Levi, age 4 from Dauphin County:

Levi is pictured above all smiles with his new voice by his side!

His SLP Kate (from the Capital Area Intermediate Unit) explained how much the device meant to him in school, “Levi picked up using a communication device (with LAMP) in the classroom, and every day, he used the device to ask for a hug! He’s just SO excited to communicate.”

Before he received his device, Levi’s grandmother, Sharia told us, “I can’t wait to see his face light up when he uses it!

Then, we received another message from Sharia after Levi got his new voice, He was very excited to connect with something familiar and supportive from his physical school setting. ‘Go get your words’ and ‘Use your voice’ are becoming welcome phrases at home, and our family can’t adequately express in words our gratitude.”

Maci, age 8 from Dauphin County:

Maci is pictured above showing her gratitude.

Maci also received her communication device during the pandemic. Her mom, Lindsey helped her make this incredible sign as a thanks. If the sign wasn’t enough to make us feel the love, Lindsey and Pam (Maci’s SLP from Upper Dauphin Area School District) wrote this beautiful poem,

To give the gift of a voice

The gift to be heard

The gift to say my choice

The power of a word

Now I don’t have to wait

I have the power to participate

A chance for others to see

The special person that is in me.

For Maci

It’s exciting to say that a majority of our families receiving devices during the pandemic plan to have virtual therapy sessions and/or trainings with the child’s Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)!

Thank you for sharing in our joy and celebrating these extraordinary kids!

Take good care,

Charlie

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