Health Care Reinvented – My Voice Program

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.

Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head

Hi Variety Friends:

Now, more than ever, we’re all trying to create smiles for those around us. Small moments of levity in the midst of a stressful and anxious period. I’m sure many of you have watched our Jokes with Jacob smile series on social media (if you haven’t, go give yourself a laugh here).

His joke and humor have truly brought a smile to my face, and his efforts inspired me to do more in my own neighborhood.

My wife, Terese and I put on Halloween costumes over the weekend, and we took a stroll around our neighborhood in the hopes of making others smile. We got a lot of people staring and double-taking what they were seeing, but it was the reactions from the kids that made it most meaningful.

  • Two 4-year old girls came running towards us from their cul-de-sac, screaming with joy, “Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head!!” Then, very seriously, the two girls told us, “We are superheroes. We’re protecting the neighborhood.”

  • Another young boy, age 5 was stunned by what he was seeing, and his mom asked him with a smile, Did you know Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head lived in our neighborhood?”

I also sent this photo of Terese and me to Jacob, so that he knew that his jokes were inspiring us to share the smiles. Here’s a photo of him reacting to our costumes, saying, You are CUCKOO!

Let’s all keep smiling, together.

Take good care,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief “Excitement” Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity

JOKES WITH JACOB

Variety would like to invite you to the PREMIERE of JOKES WITH JACOB, a social media Smile Series that hopes to bring a smile to your face.

Beginning this Wednesday, April 1st at 4:00 PM on Variety’s Facebook Page!

Jacob has truly inspired us with his attitude, especially in light of all the adversity he’s faced in his life.

Jacob is all smiles to share his jokes with us!

23-year old Jacob has been involved with Variety since a young age and received adaptive equipment. What really stands out to us about Jacob is his strong desire to give back and help more kids.

His jokes are beautiful and his laugh is “out-of-this-world” funny.

A few years ago, Jacob joined Variety for a presentation to speak with a group of employees from across Pennsylvania. He used his jokes (told through his communication device) to not only make the nearly 400 attendees laugh out loud, but they were also able to see Jacob, not as a person with extra needs, but as a regular yinzer. Because of Jacob, those attendees were so inspired and raised $40,000 to sponsor 35 more kids with their own communication device!

We believe a smile can change the world. It has the power to inspire us, lift us up, and remind us that there is beauty all around us.

We hope that you will tune into our Facebook Page this Wednesday, April 1st at 4:00 PM to view the first of many, many jokes from Jacob.

Please like, comment, and share, so that we can bring a smile to as many people as possible! Then, check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:00 PM for a new episode of JOKES WITH JACOB!

We are in this together, and together, let’s keep smiling. We believe you won’t be able to help but smile when you see Jacob laugh at his joke.

A Truly Phenomenal Day In Schuylkill County!

On Monday, January 20th, Variety held its first presentation of equipment in Schuylkill County in partnership with Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, organized labor, and many other community partners. It was a phenomenal day, as Variety presented 28 adaptive bikes, 3 adaptive strollers, and 32 communications devices!

For 11-year old twins, Madelyn and Kaylynne, it was an especially memorable day, as these sisters both received their very own adaptive bikes!

Madelyn also received a communication device, and the first thing she said to her mother through the device was, I NEED CAKE,” because she wanted to celebrate the new bikes and her communication device (her new voice)

Madelyn showing off her new voice.

A few hours later Monday night, I received this photo from her mom (below), and they were celebrating the day with CAKE!

Madelyn celebrating the day with some cake!

This may seem like a little thing, but it was HUGE for this family.

A tremendous thanks to the IU29 staff who were incredibly motivated and are already planning for our next presentation to keep the momentum going! This is a powerful example of how kids can be identified and provided with life-changing equipment, even in a predominantly rural county like Schuylkill.

Additionally, we received great media coverage to help you share in the joy of the day – see below.

Thanks so much for sharing in the joy of our kids and families.

P.S. I hope that you’ll have some CAKE this week to celebrate with Madelyn and all our kids! The Variety team celebrated right away!

There’s always time for cake!

662 KIDS = More Fun, Freedom, & Impact!

It was our biggest year EVER, in which Variety provided 662 adaptive bikes, adaptive strollers, and/or communication devices to children with disabilities!!

For our small team, it was no easy accomplishment, but the transformative impact created for 662 kids and their families was priceless for us all!

Many of you know this quote by Fred Rogers, who said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

You are the HELPERS, you are the GIVERS, and you are the LIFE-CHANGERS that make Variety’s work a reality, and we want to thank you through the smiles of our extraordinary kids!

Ozie’s ready for his 2nd My Bike® after he outgrew his first one!

Ozie is pictured above on his new bike!

Ozie’s mom, Ashley explained what an adaptive bike has meant,

Having an adaptive bike is so important to my son Ozie. He is 11 now and he understands that he is different from all other children and can’t ride a normal bike. It was hard for him to understand but he realized that a normal bike doesn’t have the support for him, and he is unable to keep his feet on the petals and he has no balance. By him having his own adaptive bike, allows him to get out of the house and partake in outdoor activities with all the kids in our neighborhood and our family. Everyone deserves to have their own bike and the joys of being a kid. This program allows that.”

Emma’s My Stroller® has her smiling!

Emma’s looking comfy in her new stroller.

Emma is pictured above “all smiles” in her new adaptive stroller that was provided through our My Stroller® Program, and with it, Emma now has a light-weight, collapsible, and comfortable way to get around. There’s not much more to add to the beautiful smile on Emma’s face!

Mason’s My Voice® Has His Brother EXCITED!

Mason and his brother checkout his new communication device for the first time!

Mason’s mom, Nicole explained why the communication device is so important,

“Mason has a delay in his speech. While he is doing amazing and trying to talk more and more every day, he continues to get frustrated when he is trying to tell or ask for things and others don’t understand him. Having a device that Mason will be able to communicate from will help him express his needs and will also improve his speech.”

As 2020 is nearly upon us, we hope you’ll continue to share in the smiles of our extraordinary kids and their families, as we strive to create even more impact for even more kids!

SPRING TOUR Provides 347 Pieces of Equipment Worth $526,000!!

SPRING TOUR BREAKS VARIETY RECORDS TO HELP MORE KIDS!

We’re thrilled to share that Variety’s Life-Changing SPRING TOUR presented a total of 347 pieces of adaptive equipment to children with disabilities over 18 separate stops throughout our service area.

Specifically, we provided 147 adaptive bikes, 128 communication devices, and 72 adaptive strollers worth $526,000 between April 1st through June 18th — and we couldn’t have done it without our incredible partners, supporters, and friends!

Together… we gave MORE SMILES,

Three of the many kids that received new adaptive bikes!

MORE CHANCES FOR COMMUNITY,

Three of the many kids that received new adaptive strollers!

AND MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR LIFE!

Three of the many kids that received new communication devices!

A historic amount of equipment was presented over the last two and a half months, and we couldn’t have done it without our community of committed helpers. Thank you for sharing in the joy of our work and helping us to make sure that more people know Variety exists, so more kids receive this life-changing equipment.

Rare Coverage We Hope Finds MORE KIDS!

Mia checking out her communication device.

We were extremely fortunate to be a featured news story on WJAC-TV (out of Altoona) Tuesday night with this nearly 7-minute piece, which rarely happens on TV news anymore! It is a great overview of our three programs and highlights three of our amazing, Riley, Mia, and Alayna:  https://wjactv.com/news/local/charity-gives-life-changing-equipment-to-children-with-disabilities

Several things stand out as I look back at what’s happened these last 7 years.

  • Variety is truly making an impact for kids and their families, who are then transforming us.
  • None of Variety’s work could be done without the community’s help to spread the word.
  • This news story highlights the daily mobility and communication challenges facing children with disabilities, and how through creating partnerships and working together, we can dramatically impact the lives of these amazing kids and their families.
  • So many people still do not know that Variety even exists, or if they know of Variety, they may not know how generous our program guidelines are, especially when compared to other social service programs.
  • The typical person (through no fault of their own) has very littler contact with children with special needs, and thus doesn’t know the challenges facing them.

To further Variety’s mission and impact, can you please think of three people to share this video with, in the hopes of reaching more kids and families that could benefit from our programs?

As an extra bonus, I have an update from Alayna’s mom.

Alayna and her brother riding together.

In the WJAC news story, Alayna’s mom said that, “She finally can ride a bike with her dad and be outside and have fun.”

Yesterday, 15-year old Alayna FINALLY got to ride on the Rails-to-Trails for the VERY FIRST TIME with her dad, and even got to RACE HER BROTHER (above) — something ALL siblings should get to do with one another!

Alayna’s mom Kylie, and so many other moms and dads continually remind us how absolutely essential it is that siblings get to have these experiences together with no one being left out. Here’s one more of Alayna from yesterday – all smiles!

Alayna posing with her pink bike!

PROGRAM UPDATES – Revised Guidelines & New Bike Color!

We have some really exciting updates!

Check out our updated program handout and program application (click links) to see a new age eligibility, which starts at 3 and goes through 21 years old, as well as an increase to our income guidelines (e.g. a family of four can make up to $128,750 and qualify).

Additionally, a 5th color has officially been added to Variety’s “My Bike” Program – BLACK & GOLD (i.e. yellow on the bike order form)! With sincerest thanks to Rifton Equipment, we were able to make this new adaptive bike color possible!

Check out our new bike color!

Lastly, as the New Year rolls on, Variety is striving to identify and serve EVERY single eligible child that could benefit from an adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, and/or communication device throughout our 56-county service area in Pa. and West Virginia.

We need help to find every eligible child out there – are you able to help us spread the word?

Some ideas for getting the word out, include getting Variety’s program handout mailed or e-mailed to your network or throughout your organization (or to all students if within a school setting in case they know of someone else that could benefit); posting information on social media; including information in a school/community newsletter or e-mail blast; inviting Variety to attend a meeting to speak to families or team members working with kids that might benefit…

Anything that you can do to spread the word would be a huge help!

OUR HEROES | Tyler, Jacob & Their Families

“We want to give EVERY eligible child a voice.”

I wanted to send you this link to watch the KDKA-TV piece from yesterday’s Press Conference, which focused on giving a voice to every eligible child that’s in need in partnership with United Steelworkers and Highmark – https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/02/05/variety-expanding-access-to-speaking-device-for-special-needs-children/.

Pictured above is Tyler and me from the Press Conference.

As you watch the video from yesterday’s Press Conference, I’m sure you will agree with me that Tyler, Jacob, and their families are our TRUE HEROES. They made the time to be there yesterday and share themselves so authentically in the hopes that other children would receive communication devices.

As many of you may know, yesterday was also my birthday.

Over the years, I’ve saved every birthday card that I received Fred Rogers, and he always wrote, “I’m so very glad you were born.” As I reflect on the work Variety is doing and on yesterday’s Press Conference, I wanted to say to all of our Variety Friends that I’m so very glad that Tyler and Jacob were born – two Variety Heroes.

Pictured above is Jacob (all smiles) with his brother Evan and mom Eileen surrounded by Deb Rice-Johnson, Variety Board President & Highmark, Inc. President / United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard / and me.

At Variety, we another quote from Fred Rogers as our tagline, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in this life is a hero to me.” I couldn’t imagine a more meaningful birthday than spending it with Tyler and Jacob, who are helping more kids find a voice of their own.

OVER 1.5 MILLION VIEWS via CBS News

Since we shared Tyler’s story with you last Friday, it has been aired nationally on CBS News, and received more than 1.5 Million views (and growing) on their Facebook page alone (click here to see and share)!

CBS News FB Post – 12.27.2018

What an incredible impact for Tyler and his family. Nothing brought that home more clearly than when I talked with Tyler on Christmas and he told me what Santa brought him… with his own voice!

Variety’s goal for the new year is to identify every single eligible child that could benefit from a communication device, adaptive bike, and/or adaptive stroller of their own. Anything you can do to help spread the word would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for your time and for believing in Variety programs // #allfortheKIDS.