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.
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!
Last Wednesday, Variety held TWO PRESENTATIONS of adaptive equipment with the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7 (over lunch), and then with the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 (over dinner) – with their entire team at each IU joining in to celebrate our kids.
Altogether, 25 kids with disabilities received an adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, and/or communication device (worth $35,700 in equipment).
At WIU7, we were all warmed by William, who couldn’t have been more excited to receive his new adaptive bike. He even showed us his “celebration dance”, which you can watch for yourself by clicking here.
Additionally, Kassie received her new communication device at WIU7, and her mom Shila described how it has opened her world,
“Since Kassie has been using her trial device at school and at home, she has brightened up immensely with excitement to share her words. I can hardly find the words to express the difference this communication device has made for Kassie these past few weeks. It has opened her world. I am amazed at how well she can manage the talker app. It has given her a voice and she is talking.”
We had some great coverage from both presentations, which tell the stories and smiles of our kids – check them out:
- TribLive (Westmoreland): https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/hempfield-event-pairs-disabled-children-with-adaptive-devices-bikes/
- WTAJ-TV (: https://www.wearecentralpa.com/news/families-of-kids-with-disabilities-get-donated-adaptive-bikes-strollers-and-communication-devices/1934962048
- The Sentinel: http://www.lewistownsentinel.com/news/local-news/2019/04/local-disabled-youth-presented-with-special-adaptive-equipment/
- The Daily News: Click here to read.
Our incredible partnerships with the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 and Westmoreland Intermediate Unit 7 truly changed 25 kids’ lives last Wednesday, and we’re hopeful that together, we can find even more kids for adaptive equipment!
Last week, we had two days of presentations to provide a total of 57 pieces of adaptive equipment worth more than $80,000 worth of equipment provided by Variety.
Variety presented 8 adaptive bikes, 12 adaptive strollers, and 23 communication devices (and fit 8 more kids for their adaptive bikes) last Thursday, April 11th at the Blackburn’s Showroom in the Pittsburgh Mills Mall. It was especially memorable to have Allegheny Valley Hospital’s Citizens School of Nursing join in on our celebration (see group photo above).
We also had the chance to meet twin sisters, Samantha and Sydney, who couldn’t be more excited to each receive their new adaptive bikes! They’re pictured below with their parents and AVH President & CEO Jeffrey Carlson, who also joined us for the special day.
During last Thursday’s presentation, Sydney told us, “For me personally, I was never able to ride a bike because I was scared of falling...”
Additionally, Variety partnered with Intermediate Unit #1 on Tuesday, April 9th to present 5 adaptive bikes, 2 adaptive stroller, and 7 communication devices (with two kids receiving multiple pieces of equipment). It was especially exciting to have Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughn join us for this special day of celebration.
Cole, age 4 received an adaptive bike AND a communication device last Tuesday.
His mom, Katherine told us how her active son would be impacted by this new bike,
“Our family is very active. We enjoy camping, hiking, taking walks to the park and other family outings. We would love to take both of our sons for bike rides. We believe that given the chance, Cole would love to go for rides with his brother and with the family and it would improve his muscle control and coordination”
Katherine then explained how this device would be life-changing for Cole,
“For our family, this device means understanding what Cole wants and needs instead of just guessing, allowing him to talk to his teachers and therapists at school, and with the rest of his classmates! Once he has a device, I am so excited to hear what he has to say and what he knows already! I’m sure he is going to surprise us all! ”
These moments are worth remembering as you push through your week, as more than 50 kids now have an adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, and / or communication device to help them live life more fully.
On Friday, March 22nd, Variety got to present 6 adaptive bikes, 4 adaptive strollers, and 2 communication devices to local kids with the outstanding Riverview Intermediate Unit 6 team, and it was one amazing day!
One of these kids was Mason, age 14, who received his new BLUE adaptive bike.
His mom, Felicia told us,
“As an active family, especially in the summer, we do a lot of camping. Many of the campgrounds have paved roads for biking. Mason would benefit so well with the bike so that he would be able to join everyone and feel as he was part of the crowd as well.”
Mason also received an adaptive stroller, and his mom continued to tell us,
“Aside from camping, we also enjoy going to festivals, walks and theme parks. The stroller would benefit us so well without the bulk of a wheelchair and the struggle of pushing it through large crowds. We try to involve Mason in everything we do as an active family, but sometimes we had to rearrange our plans because of equipment issues.”
Additionally, we presented 2 adaptive bikes, 1 adaptive stroller, and 5 communication devices to kids from Beaver County on Wednesday with the amazing team at the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit.
It was especially exciting to present a communication device to Khloe, age 6, whose mom, Brittany reminded us how much communication is taken for granted, and much this equipment means,
“My daughter is completely nonverbal, and she will not use sign language or PECS to communicate. As her mom, I feel the need for a communication device is critical to her learning and understanding of language. If she is hurting, lost or needs help, how is a stranger supposed to know what she needs or wants? Due to her Autism diagnosis there are many obstacles she faces and her being non-verbal is a huge burden for her. A communication device will lift that burden.”
This past Monday was SENSATIONAL as we presented 5 adaptive bikes, 2 adaptive strollers, and 3 communication devices to kids with disabilities at Seneca Highland Intermediate Unit 9 — that’s 10 pieces of adaptive equipment to kids in rural Pennsylvania!!
Jake, age 17, received his new communication device during Monday’s presentation. You might remember Jake from his recent feature on CBS Evening News and defeated Bradford Area High School wrestler, Dillon (who was otherwise undefeated) – click here to watch the news story.
Dillon and two other teammates joined Jake (their honorary wrestling captain) for this monumental day (see photo above).
Jake’s mom Mary Jo told us beforehand,
“Jacob has always been non-verbal. We do some sign language, but much of it is modified due to his poor fine motor skills. He uses an iPad as a method of communication. This gives him not only the ability to communicate, but a sense of independence.
He’s a junior in high school and will leave school in one more year. Our goal is to have him as prepared as possible to communicate because not everyone in the community knows sign language. What’s great about having an iPad is that other kids have devices, so Jake doesn’t stand out or feel different. The device gives him choices – like to say what he wants for dinner.
He tells me ‘I love you’ and this will be the only way I hear it from him because he’s nonverbal.”
Jake’s new device will be solely dedicated to his communication (without games or any distractions), and it will truly be his voice at all times.
Additionally, Nattely (who turned 5 on Tuesday) received her new PINK adaptive bike, and she had been asking about for weeks leading up to the presentation.
Her mom, Gina told us, “She is so excited. Nattely can’t ride a bike on her own, but as soon as she got on the adaptive bike, she just started going. It was the best thing. I can’t even put into words how happy it makes us.”
To share in the joy of Monday’s presentation, you can also check out this article that appeared in The Bradford Era, which appeared on the front-page of Tuesday’s newspaper (click here).
This is absolutely incredible! Reagan’s family used their adaptive stroller to climb to the very top of Bryce Canyon in Utah to see the morning sunrise, and they got to do it TOGETHER as a family.
Reagan, age 9 (pictured above with her mom), received an adaptive stroller through Variety’s “My Stroller” Program a few years ago, and her mom Kelly told us how incredible the stroller has been for them,
“We applied and received an adaptive stroller first, which was a huge blessing. In fact, two summers ago, we went out West. My dad has Parkinson’s and it was on his bucket list, so we wanted to make that happen. With the stroller, we made it up Bryce Canyon, and my husband decided that ALL of us (since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity) need to reach the top of Bryce Canyon. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning to see the sunrise, and my husband put Reagan into her stroller, and he pushed her all the way up the mountain. So, I know you can reach the top of a mountain with this stroller.”
More recently, Reagan received her new adaptive bike from Variety, and Kelly told us they have big plans for it, “We do a lot of camping, so that’s where the bike comes in. It will offer her adventure and even some freedom!”
Kelly goes into even more detail about the stroller’s impact in this video. Check it out and listen to Kelly’s amazing words first-hand.
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!
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!
Six years ago, Variety kicked off “My Bike” with the presentation of Bike #1 at PNC Park with then Governor Tom Corbett, Pirates’ President Frank Coonelly, PNC’s Andrea Carelli, Highmark’s Deb Rice-Johnson and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. We had an idea at that moment and the desire to impact kids with disabilities.
Six years later, we returned to PNC Park with not only “My Bike”, but “My Stroller” and “My Voice” with all three of these programs changing kids’ lives in dramatic ways. Since November 2012 when “My Bike” kicked off, 2,500 bikes, strollers, and communication devices have been presented and $4.3 Million has been donated to provide this life-changing equipment, and we’ve expanded our service area from 10 Southwestern Pa. counties to 54 counties in Pa. and West Virginia.
I was especially impacted by Clint Hurdle’s words for all of us in the room last Friday,
“To see this type of opportunity is priceless to me. We have a special needs daughter, Maddie, who is 16 years old. She has never ridden a bike and wants no part of a bike. The joy I walk out of here with is seeing the smiles on the faces of you parents and grandparents, and the independence these bikes give your children. I know the joy we get when someone takes a part in our daughter’s life. It makes our journey a little easier.”
Last Friday was not only a flashback to where “My Bike” began and where it has gone today, but Variety also presented 5 adaptive bikes as part of the Pirates’ CARE-a-van that allowed Pirates’ coaches / players to interact and walk alongside our kids, including: Josh Bell, J.T. Brubaker, Cole Tucker, Jacob Cruz, Joey Cora and Justin Meccage. Excitingly, three of the five bikes presented were sponsored by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Alumni.
Also joining the day’s festivities last Friday was Variety Ambassador James, his sister Krissy, and his mom Mary.
Krissy summed up the bike’s impact by saying, “The day that I rode bikes with my brother for the first time was one of the most amazing days of my life. It may be the very best day ever!”
Thank you for following along with us – we could not be more grateful for you!
P.S. If you have a few minutes, you can watch this short video that portrays our journey from an idea to the impact we are creating today for so many kids.
Over the course of one-week, Variety partnered with the Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 and the Capital Area Intermediate Unit to impact 37 local kids throughout the Central PA region!
TAKE A MOMENT & SHARE IN THESE SMILES!
Kids like Tori (pictured below) received their brand new adaptive bike in partnership with AIU#8 on Monday, January 7th. Upon seeing her bike for the first time, Tori exclaimed with joy, “THERE SHE IS! THERE SHE IS!” Tori also gave her bike the name, “Gorgeous.”
Tori’s mom, Mary Ann told us prior to the presentation,
“Over the years, we tried to get Torrance to ride a 2-wheeled bike, but she has a hard time with balancing and is scared of falling. Tori will watch her neighborhood peers ride their bikes and she just wants to ride with them. Getting an adaptive bike will help her enjoy her friends riding bikes together and not feel left out and different. During her first bike ride at the presentation, she was smiling from ear-to-ear and was riding her new bike with speed and no fear for the very first time.”
Additionally, Mia (pictured below) received her new communication device with AIU#8.
Mia’s mom, Anita described what this device will mean, “Mia began trialing a communication device in the Spring of 2018, and it has been a catalyst for her understanding of what communication is and showing our family what she is capable of. One day, Mia showed us on her device how to spell her first name and last name without any prompting. We were shocked as we had no idea she knew that. We laughed, we cried, and celebrated. A device has given us hope and we would love for Mia to always have this opportunity to talk and showcase her cognitive ability. She has many obstacles, but having a device makes life at home and school a little easier.”
When Variety presented adaptive equipment this past Monday, January 14th with the CAIU, Emma received her new adaptive stroller (pictured below with her mom and sister).
Previously, Emma received an adaptive bike through Variety, and her mom, Jackie described the impact of this equipment, “Emma got a bike and we’ve incorporated it into her home-based instruction as an incentive, so it is all about the bike (she loves her bike). With the stroller, Emma can walk, but not very long distances, so it will be huge for our family because we don’t have to be isolated. I can take Emma and her sister out together versus only one of them at a time. The stroller will help us be able to do more things as a family and help Emma reach her best potential.”
AND HERE’S ONE LAST SMILE…
Brothers, James and Willoughby both received their new bikes at the CAIU and couldn’t have been more excited about it!
As we dive into the New Year, I hope that you’ll take a moment to reflect on the reason for Variety’s work with me.
For kids with disabilities, life can have a great deal of obstacles, unexpected setbacks, and financial stresses that not only impact the child, but their entire family. The needs and challenges of these children are often invisible to the community-at-large. Variety’s work strives to equip these amazing kids with equipment that is individually customized for them to meet their needs and give them greater opportunities for their life.
An adaptive bike is provided through Variety’s “My Bike” Program with every bike being tailored and manufactured for each child to give them the chance to ride a bike (many for the first time in their lives).
An adaptive stroller is provided through Variety’s “My Stroller” Program, and this customized piece of equipment is used for easier mobility throughout the community and to keep kids safe (who might be runners).
A communication device is provided through Variety’s “My Voice” Program and gives children living with a communication disorder (or are nonverbal) a restricted device loaded with a prescribed communication app that allows kids to have a voice at all times wherever they go.
In 2019, Variety’s priority is to identify every single eligible child that could benefit from our programs with kids being able to apply for one, two, or all three programs.
A very Happy New Year to you – may it be the best year yet.