Making an Impact in the Midst of a Pandemic: PART 1

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 is pictured above with his parents.

Critical background:
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.

Corey is pictured holding his new device, which came as a special delivery at his home!

May 15, 2020:
Corey received his adaptive bike at Leg Up Farm.

Corey is taking his new bike for a ride with his dad beside him!

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,

Charlie

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

Ricky, “I’M SMILING!”

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!

Ricky is all smiles above!

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!

WE’RE ALL FOR ONE // Impacting Kids During Pandemic

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.

Ricky & his family giving a big THUMBS UP!

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!”

Ricky back at home the night after receiving his new adaptive bike!

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.

Ricky starring in our bike safety video.

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!

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.

Checking in with A SMILE!

Tree of Life Rabbi Myers was on GMA this past Friday morning, and he made a terrific point when he said that we need “PHYSICAL distance from others at this time but SOCIAL connection.” Such a good point that we need social connectedness. We are grateful for our connection and all that we have done and are doing for kids with disabilities.

At this challenging time, we wanted to send you a small reminder about the power of a smile.

Issac makes me smile because I know that he has a communication device to not only help him find freedom in communication, but, as his mom describes below, it will help to lessen his own daily frustration.

Issac and his parents are all smiles with his new device!

Issac’s mom, Morgan describes why this device is needed, “Issac’s functional communication has always been a struggle, and it is clearly a source of frustration for him when he tries to communicate but can’t find the words he needs.  Since he started speech therapy, Issac has continued to develop a vocabulary of useful words for requesting objects and observations. With this equipment, we can continue to support Issac as his vocabulary grows, and it is our hope this will help decrease frustration.”

Issac checking out his new voice!

Let’s strive to keep our social connection and find every moment to SMILE!

“Watching Your Child Struggle is One of the Hardest Things.”

When 4-year old Nik received his communication device, he was BEAUTIFULLY surrounded by his  parents, siblings, grandparents, and even his aunt and uncle. All of whom came to the presentation to celebrate this life-changing day and to show their commitment to helping him every step of the way.

Nik is pictured above surrounded by his family, as he receives his new communication device!

Nik’s mom, Nikol gave us perspective to why she was originally hesitant to try a communication device, and the impact it has since had on her son,

“Watching your child struggle with something is one of the hardest things. Especially when that struggle is with communication.

We as Nikolas’s parents… growing up… we would never think twice about being able to verbally communicate. Something, we feel we took for granted.

We have tried to be so proactive with helping him communicate. When Nik’s speech therapist asked us about utilizing an iPad in class to help Nikolas, we had a concern that it would hurt more so than help Nik. ‘Would he use the iPad and not want to try to speak?’ We were worried, but after support from his teacher and speech therapist, we decided to try it.

To our surprise Nik seemed to come home, almost daily, and it felt like he was able to verbally communicate more that day or week than the last. Janet asked if we were interested in having one at home and without hesitation we happily said ‘YES!’

To have Nik come home and not struggle with verbally communicating his wants as much, whether picking up more words or utilizing the iPad, would be such a blessing.”

After receiving his device, Nikol sent us this 30-second video of him using it to tell her what he wanted:

Thank you for believing in Variety’s work and helping us, help more kids.

A 1-Minute Update… Try Not to Smile!

MEET HAZEL

Hazel is all smiles above with her mom!

3-year old Hazel was all smiles, as she checked out her new communication device (and ate a tangerine). She received the device last Tuesday through Variety’s My Voice® Program, and we are still beaming with joy for her and her entire family.

Her mom, Mary told us,

Hazel wants to communicate. She tries so hard to tell us what she wants and what she’s thinking, but she runs into the limitation of her ability very quickly. While Hazel communicates with sign language, she only has about five spoken words, and it’s very difficult for her to form words.

A device like this would be life-changing for us, as it would give her another way to speak to us, and it would give her a consistent aid in hearing spoken words to help her build her own vocal abilities.”

This communication device is a tool for kids like Hazel to find their voice, and be able to express their wants, needs, and feelings to those around them. I don’t know about you, but I would love to hear what Hazel has to say now with her device!