Life-Changing Equipment

A few months ago, 4-year-old Noah received his new adaptive bike AND adaptive stroller, and a year ago, he received a communication device – gaining all three pieces of equipment!

Noah’s smile above really says it all, but his mom, Roxanne shared the transformative difference the bike will make, by saying,

“My son is unable to even sit on a regular tricycle, let alone ride it. He is also unable to steer and petal by himself. We want him to get the idea of how to ride a bike, since he is already four years old and has never been able to properly ride one.

An adaptive bike will mean so much to our family because Noah can finally ride a bike this summer alongside his big sister, and we wouldn’t have to worry about him getting injured.”

Don’t miss Noah’s even bigger smile, as he tested out his new stroller below!

The stroller may not be as flashy as the bike, but it certainly has an immediate and incredible impact, like Roxanne helped us understand,

“Noah has always had low tone, a small limp when he walks (which is part of why he has leg braces), and he gets winded quicker than other children his age. As a family, we love going to places such as our local zoo, walks around the peninsula, and to our local amusement park. Noah absolutely loves going to these places, too, but it definitely presents a challenge for him and his legs when we are there for extended periods of time.

The adaptive stroller will help our family continue to do the things we love, especially during the warmer months in PA, and still allow for Noah to take breaks when needed. Not to mention, the stroller will lighten the burden on him and on myself and my husband from carrying Noah (especially since he has gotten very heavy as a four year old!).”

I am thrilled for Noah because families are regularly telling us, “the earlier their child can receive this life-changing equipment, the greater possibilities for their future.”

Left to right: Mia is pictured above at times when she could not speak, to when she could speak through a communication device, and finally, to speaking with her own voice.

Mia’s mom, Anita recently shared at our Gala that her daughter is “a poster child for the importance and impact of early childhood intervention,” because at nearly 4 years old, Mia received a communication device and was completely nonverbal at that time.

Now at the age 7, Mia speaks completely with her own voice – can you even imagine the possibilities for her life now?!

CBS National News Story Featuring My Voice

We reached another milestone last week with a CBS National News story that shined a spotlight on Variety’s My Voice® Program!

Please watch, share, and be inspired by this story broken into three parts:

We are hopeful that this story will enable us to help even more kids in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as highlight that we’ve truly created a model that can be replicated throughout the nation (and even world).

A tremendous thanks to KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen, who not only made this extraordinary opportunity possible, but she also became a voice for the kids that still need a communication device.

My Voice is creating a life-changing impact for kids that are nonverbal (or have a communication disorder), and we’re so grateful for your support to make it happen!

Mia’s Own Voice | Plus, 300 Devices & Counting

While our Spring Tour continues to bring miles of smiles, our My Voice® Program has provided more than 300 communication devices in the last 7-months!

Last Thursday, WTAJ (based in Altoona) aired an incredible news story that gave an in depth look into 7-year-old Mia’s communication journey – going from no words, to a communication device, to speaking with her own voice!

Please take a moment to enjoy and share with otherswww.wearecentralpa.com/news/local-news/communication-device-gives-huntingdon-county-girl-a-voice

We constantly hear from parents that My Voice is making a life-changing difference for kids and their families, and here are a few more reasons to smile.

8-year-old Jaxson recently received his new communication device (above), and his mom, Elizabeth described their hope, by saying,

I believe this device will open up a whole new world of communication and socialization. It will help him grow his independence (which he will need someday), confidence, and happiness.

He has so much to say and I watch him struggle to tell someone what he wants or is thinking. Being able to join a conversation and responding is a dream – mine and his.”

Wilson’s excitement for his new communication device is out of this world (pictured above), and his mom, Kristine shared what it will mean, by saying,

“Wilson really only speaks in approximations. He does not say many words that are understandable to his teachers or family members who are not with him every day.

However, I know that Wilson knows a lot but has a hard time demonstrating his knowledge. A communication device will help him demonstrate to his teachers what he has learned and to indicate his needs to his family members.”

Lightning Strikes Twice!

Please don’t miss these two stories from KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen, who shares powerful updates on Tyler and Mia, and their communication journey.

What’s most extraordinary is that Mia AND Tyler have gone from no voice of their own, to speaking through a communication device, to now speaking with their OWN voices.

Unfortunately, this won’t be the case for every child that receives their own device, but by equipping them with a communication device to have 24/7, My Voice® is giving kids a chance at discovering their own possibilities.

The hard truth is that kids and youth are living without a voice all around us, and it’s a hidden problem to most of society. Imagine for a moment if your child or grandchild was unable to communicate their feelings, wants, or needs at home…

I am so grateful Kristine, who is not only a terrific news reporter, but she brings her own authenticity as a parent to create awareness for this critical issue.

Last month, we got another update from Owen’s mom, Larissa, who shared, “Owen is doing so well that he doesn’t need the device anymore! Right after we got it, we were able to integrate his communication device into our dinner conversation, but then his speech took off so fast and all in one leap, and we can now (finally) understand Owen without the aid of his communication device!”

We simply don’t know what these kids are capable of accomplishing until we give them the chance or the right equipment.

Take good care,

Charlie

P.S. I hope you’ll share this news piece with your network of family, friends, and peers to bring even greater awareness to the communication needs of children and youth.

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

Hearing “I love you”

Valentine’s Day is centered on love, and to us, the greatest gift you can ever receive is the love of another person.

Many of the kids we’re helping are not able to say, “I love you” with their own voice, but with a communication device, kids like Reagan (demonstrating above) have the ability to express THEIR LOVE.

Last summer, Graysun received his new communication device (pictured above), but last week, his SLP, Kaitlyn shared, Graysun verbally said ‘I love you’ to me yesterday. This is huge, and I am positive his communication device is what has helped him get to this point!!”

Before receiving his device, Graysun’s mom, Brandi explained her hope and how much this means,

“The only person who understands Graysun is me, his mother. In a very profound way, this equipment will impact our whole family. Graysun and his older brother, Levi cannot communicate as well as they could because Graysun only has limited verbal ability.

To be able to see him communicate his needs would be astonishing. My sons will have a better relationship if Graysun had a way to express his voice, and a device will go such a long way.”

We will always remember Kevin (pictured above) and his mom LaVelle, who shared this incredible moment,

“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.”

We know how powerful it is to hear those three words from a child, “I love you” – however it’s expressed. It doesn’t matter if it is said with a child’s own voice, or through a communication device, the expression of love is felt either way.

P.S. Please consider sharing this e-mail today with the people you love or care about.

Experience A Family’s Journey

This update intimately describes why Variety exists, and why our equipment is simply life-changing.

Pictured above – Addy received her pink adaptive bike in October 2020 at Covestro.

12-year old Addy’s mom, Brandy truly “opens her front door and welcomes us inside” to fully experience her family’s journey, by sharing,

Everything we received from Variety has been life-changing for our daughter, who has low functioning autism along with an intellectual disability.

Variety has given Addy two communication devices, an adaptive stroller, and just last year, an adaptive bike!

Let’s start with the communication device.

Before receiving her first device (almost five years ago), Addy’s communication was non-existent.

She had no words at all and was considered non-verbal.

After years with her device and learning her communication app, Proloquo 2 Go with her speech therapist, Addy is able to easily navigate the app to communicate her needs to us.

This video shows the progress she’s made since that first device! She’s a Proloquo champion now (click here to watch).

Through using the app, she also started forming some words on her own! She used to sit and ‘practice her words’ by hitting a picture, like burrito and trying to say it.

Before her device, she had absolutely no words. Now, she says about 100 words without prompting on her own, and for the ones we don’t exactly understand, she’s able to use her device.

The device has been a game-changer, from helping her communicate aches and pains, along with helping us find lost toys she was looking for. These scenarios could easily have sent her spiraling into a meltdown.

Even for simple things like the video will show, she uses the device to say a picture she’d like printed and laminated (her favorite past time is her photo collection).

I don’t know how many meltdowns that have been avoided by having this communication device, but it’s a lot.

Okay, now onto the stroller.

Addy has always been a runner. Before she started using an adaptive stroller, it was unsafe and virtually impossible to take her out in the community.

After she got to an age where she could out run me, which came very early on around 6 years old, it was no longer safe to take her out in the community.

Unless you have a child with a disability, you couldn’t understand how it effects every aspect of your life.

I couldn’t take her grocery shopping.

I couldn’t take her safely to her doctors’ appointments.

I couldn’t even take her to do fun things in the community like, the zoo or the local street fair.

On top of being a runner, Addy also has a lot of self-injury behaviors and aggression, but the stroller is her safe spot.

Now, if she starts having a meltdown with self-injury or aggression, we can safely get her to the car without her trying to flee, or without her dropping to the ground (she does this during meltdowns and she now weighs 100 pounds).

Without her stroller, we would have no choice but to stay home, as it is not safe to have her out in the community without a stroller that locks her in… but now, I can grocery shop, I can take her to Kennywood, and really do anything with her!!

So far with the stroller, we’ve been able to go to the Zoo, Kennywood , the Butler Fair, along with doctors’ appointments, the pharmacy –  you name it, we can go there now. Addy loves the stroller, too. We even used it to go trick-or-treating!!

And last, but not least, the adaptive bike…

I will tell you, I wasn’t very interested in getting the bike. I actually passed on it when we got her first communication device because I didn’t think it would be something that Addy would enjoy.

But boy was I mistaken! The only regret I have is that we didn’t try to get the bike sooner.

When we got Addy’s second communication device, her occupational therapist really encouraged me to apply for the bike as well.

She thought it would be something Addy would enjoy, but I still had my doubts.

Fast forward, we got the bike and set it up on the stationary stand that was given to us because it was still cold outside. It took Addy a few days, but she warmed up to it. She began pedaling in place and loving it!

She would put her talker on the stand and go for about 30 minutes, which is awesome because she’s also getting tired out – and that means the world to us special needs parents because we are ALL sleeping more and better!

So, we decided once the weather brake to take her to North Park to ride her bike, and she absolutely loved it!!

She loved it so much that we now take her there to ride her bike every week, and it has become part of her routine that she looks forward to doing! We even had to print a picture of her bike to put on her calendar every week!

And, every time we go to North Park, Addy rides her bike for 2-miles!

This bike is was something that I didn’t realize we needed, and something that brings her great joy every week!!

We can’t thank everyone at Variety and all the donors enough… life with our daughter has really been opened up in all ways since receiving all of the equipment from Variety!

I keep reading over Addy’s story, and I can’t help but wonder, “What if Variety was only able to provide one piece of equipment versus all three (forcing families to choose)?”

I AM GRATEFUL for all the opportunities we’ve been able to give to these amazing kids and their families…. TOGETHER!

Take good care,

Charlie

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

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