A New Discovery for Jacob — don’t miss his joy!

Our “My Voice” Program and the impact it can have continues to amaze us all, and we want everyone to share in Jacob’s joy and that of his mother and brother on Valentine’s Day. The three of them joined us last week at a Press Conference to find more eligible kids.

Jacob is pictured above with his mother Eileen and brother Evan.

Eilleen sent the following update to our CEO last night:

Charlie,

I was listening to your story about Mia and her brother using her iPad to ask Alexa to play Baby Shark.  It took me 2 days to think how that could help Jacob. 

Well, today I figured it out!  We have a voice remote for our T.V.  Jacob tries, very unsuccessfully most of the time, to tell our remote what he wants to watch.  I thought of an idea.  Why don’t we program Touchchat with pictures of all his favorite shows.  Now he can use his iPad to ask the remote to turn on his favorite shows.  Evan was able to help with finding pictures of all of his favorites. 

When we sat with him to teach him how to do it, he was so excited.  The first thing he wanted to try was the Penguins logo!  Sure enough, he got what he wanted.  Now he is watching the Pens beat Edmonton!!!

Thank you for all you do for our kids.

Eileen

Then, she e-mailed this 20-second video, which shows Jacob using his communication device for the first time to get the Penguins game on TV independently!

Jacob’s JOY at being able to do this himself is a reminder for all of us that this is very special work that we’re engaged in. We are giving kids the opportunity to do for themselves, the very things we take for granted.

P.S. On this Valentine’s Day, a day of love for one another, Eileen shines as an example of the love all our moms have in their hearts for these extraordinary children and youth.

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.

Joy & Hope for Owen & His Mom!

Less than a month ago we presented 4-year old Owen with a communication device in Altoona. Owen has autism. This morning, we received a note from Owen’s mom Jessica. It is another reminder of the things that we all take for granted are major moments in the lives of these families.

Luke is pictured above with his mom.

Jessica said, “I just wanted to share with you a small joy we had this week. We have slowly been integrating the my voice device and Owen has taken to it when it comes to requesting food choices. I thank you from the bottom of my heart what seems like such a simple task for a child is something my son struggles with daily. This gives me hope that he will take to it to request items to play with, etc. Thank you for giving this mother hope!”

An Idea Turned Into $4.3 Million for Kids!

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.

Clint Hurdle is pictured above on an adaptive bike surrounded by Andrea Carelli, Frank Coonelly, Tom Corbett, and Charlie LaVallee.

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.

To see Manager Clint Hurdle leading our kids in the parade for yourself, then click this link!

Also joining the day’s festivities last Friday was Variety Ambassador James, his sister Krissy, and his mom Mary.

James is pictured above with his sister Krissy and Pirates’ player Josh Bell.

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!

A few more smiles from the day.

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.

ONE WEEK | 37 More Smiles

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!

Tori is all thumbs up for her new bike.

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 checking out her new communication device!

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).

Emma in her new comfy stroller.

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…

All smiles next to their new bikes!

Brothers, James and Willoughby both received their new bikes at the CAIU and couldn’t have been more excited about it!

Tyler’s Voice: “A Christmas Miracle”

This story is truly a Christmas Miracle that I hope you’ll watch and share with others to spread the holiday spirit. Last night, KDKA-TV and Kristine Sorensen featured the extraordinary progress that Tyler, age 7 has made in going from no voice of his own, to a communication device, to speaking with his very own voice – https://www.kidsburgh.org/boy-with-autism-finds-his-voice-thanks-to-special-ipad.

Variety is blessed to be a part of this “Christmas Miracle” as KDKA said, and Tyler has truly changed our lives for the better.

Tyler is pictured above with his sisters, Sienna and Ariel visiting Santa!

Impact for 12 Kids in Clearfield County!

Yesterday, we had a terrific presentation of 5 adaptive bikes, 5 adaptive strollers, and 2 communication devices in Clearfield County in partnership with the Central Intermediate Unit #10. It was thrilling to give out so much equipment in a rural area!

My thanks to Board Member Mickey Sgro for making the time to join us and help make the day go smoothly! I was especially excited because we got to present the equipment during an all IU Special Education Director meeting, which will hopefully help to increase identification of kids in the area.

In particular, David, age 9 received an adaptive bike alongside his good friend, Zahir, age 9 who received an adaptive stroller.

David is all smiles on his new bike!

When asked by the media if he was excited about his bike, David responded with smile, “I have never rode a bike before. I feel happy. Very happy to get a bike!

Additionally, I took a pause after hearing what Zahir’s mom, Catherine said regarding the impact of his stroller. Zahir has a wheelchair that is hard to break down and is also very heavy. It has always prevented him from getting to go into a McDonald’s, where his favorite food is French fries.

Zahir is all smiles in his comfy new stroller next to his friend (and classmate), David!

When he heard he was getting his new adaptive stroller, he immediately asked his mom (with excitement) if they could go to McDonald’s after the presentation and go INSIDE for the first time. Of course, his mom promised with a smile. She went further to say, “He doesn’t get the opportunity like other kids to do the simple things in life.” This stroller is helping to make one more opportunity possible.

We were also joined by WJAC-TV and The Progress Newspaper, who helped us to capture the day (see links below). I think you’ll especially enjoy reading about Lydia, age 13 and the impact her new bike is going to bring (Progress News article).

“It’s MAGIC!” — An unforgettable one minute video

We had an incredible experience at Variety’s 2018 Gala which highlighted the Smedley family.

All three sisters riding bikes at Variety’s 2018 Gala.

The Smedley’s oldest adult daughter, Brittany, attended with her parents and 5 siblings –all of whom are adopted from China and three of which have Cerebral Palsy. During the event, and after seeing her sisters ride adaptive bikes together for the first time (pictured above), Brittany said, I always thought of my family as just my family –but being here tonight, showed me that my family is a miracle.”

We treasure this one-minute video which shows these girls, who were friends in China, and are now sisters in Crawford County, PA, and riding bikes together for the first time.

 

We are truly blessed to be able to provide these life-changing bikes to the kids and their families.. As mom Traci says, “These bikes allow them to be just kids…just kids…That’s like magic.”

Their Amazing Abilities SHINED!

So many beautiful smiles!

At Variety’s 2018 Gala on November 2nd, our kids truly SHINED as they rode, strolled, or walked in our “Kids Parade” that kicked off an evening of hope. For the 12 kids that joined us, it was truly a “peak moment” where they got to be spotlighted for their amazing abilities rather than their disabilities.

  • We asked everyone in the room to commit to sharing this special video on social media or via e-mail to help get the word out far and wide – more than 450 attendees raised their hands as a promise to us and our kids.
  • You can watch the video by clicking here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr7TYhLT3QI
  • Will you also commit to sharing this video with your colleagues, family, and/or friends in hopes of finding more kids that could benefit from Variety’s programs?
  • Our goal is to find 100% of kids that could benefit from our programs, and you taking one minute to share could help one more child receive their own adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, or communication device.

Variety was also grateful to honor two amazing individuals during our 2018 Gala, Tim Wiebe and Mickey Sgro, who have dedicated their time and resources to help change kids’ lives. You can see more photos from the event by clicking here. 

Thank you for your time and your belief in the importance of Variety’s work and mission to enable children with disabilities to live life to the fullest. We could not do it without you, our mighty Variety team!

Twins, Levi & Emmalee Impacted In Wheeling!

Yesterday, we celebrated the holiday season early in Wheeling, West Virginia!

Jordyn is pictured above ALL SMILES on her new bike (photo by WTRF).

Variety partnered with Southwestern Energy on Thursday, November 8th to host a special presentation for local kids in the Wheeling region to receive new adaptive equipment, and we were even joined by Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott!

In total, Variety presented 4 adaptive bikes, 2 adaptive strollers, and 1 communication device, as well as fit 4 more kids for a bike or stroller (i.e. the last step before ordering equipment). Excitingly, two of the kids yesterday received multiple pieces of equipment, as Variety does not put a limit on families receiving more than one piece of equipment. If a child is eligible and can benefit, we want families to have it.

It was a VERY special moment for parents Kathy and Vernon, as they watched their 8-year old boy, Levi receive his very own adaptive bike. It got even more special as Variety fit Levi’s twin sister, Emmalee for HER adaptive bike!

Pictured above are Emmalee on a blue bike and Levi on his red bike with myself, Amy Dobkin (Southwestern Energy & Variety Board), Kathy and Vernon, and Mayor Elliott.

Here’s what Kathy shared with us during the presentation,

“I have twins. This is Emmalee and this is Levi. They are both autistic, and even though Emmalee speaks, she can’t answer yes or no questions to let us know if she was hurt.

Before coming here today, I heard about Variety’s other programs, including their “My Voice” Program, and that’s big for us because we have never heard Levi talk, as he is nonverbal. Recently, Levi has started to verbalize sounds, which is huge for us.

And now for the first time, he’s going to be able to ride a bike after. It is going to give my child more freedom, which is huge!”

Check out these two terrific pieces done by WTOV and WTRF to experience the joy of yesterday for yourself!