A Double Dose of Impact, Joy, & Smiles!

Group shot following our parade!

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...”

Samantha and Sydney are pictured with their family and AVH President & CEO Jeffrey Carlson.

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.

Cole is pictured on his new bike next to his parents and Commissioner Irey Vaughn (left), and then checking out his new device (right).

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.

I Hope You Can Read Kim’s Words…

Jace is 7 years old, nonverbal, and recently received a communication device AND adaptive stroller from Variety. The impact that these two pieces of equipment are going to have is incredible!

Jace is pictured above showing off his new device!

To give you a better idea, his mom Kim explained the challenges that are often hidden to us, but she and Jace live every day. I hope that you can read and take in Kim’s words, as they truly shine a light on what our families face, and how Variety is providing a bit of hope along the way.

  • Kim told us, “I cannot communicate with him. He cannot tell me even his most basic needs and wants. He cannot tell me if he is scared, if he’s in pain, if something is wrong.

  • I’m at a loss… whoever thought it would be this hard. It’s so frustrating as a parent. Everything gets put on hold. Because of his physical challenges, I don’t even know what he can and cannot do because he can’t tell me.

  • Receiving the communication device gives me hope. Hope that I’ll be able to understand what he understands. Hope that he can communicate what he’s struggling with so that I can help him. Hope that I will truly be able to understand him… I worry about what I do not know.”

Kim also went further to tell us how the adaptive stroller would make a significant impact,

“I cannot take him as well as his 3-year old typical brother out because if one of them gets away from me, I can’t leave the other to get him. It is not just exhausting, it is scary. Jace is also getting too heavy to lift. The stroller will enable us to go out and participate in the community. It is terrible to be isolated, especially in the winter.”

Jace is feeling comfy in his new stroller.

Our work is certainly not the solution to all of life’s problems, but I feel privileged that we can provide such life-changing equipment to these amazing kids and their families. It is giving them a bit of HOPE to keep going and strength to push through the challenges that they face each day.

A Great Day in Rural PA w/ IU#9!

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 is pictured above with his new device and teammates.

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.

Nattely is all smiles on her new PINK bike!

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).

A SMALL JOY for Owen’s Mom

This past January, we presented 4-year old Owen with a communication device in Altoona. Owen has autism. Less than a month later, 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.

Owen checks out his new device with his parents.

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!

These moments might not appear as significant to many, but for our families (and us at Variety), it’s the small moments that have the greatest impact. These moments of joy give our families hope.

Climbing A Mountain w/ the Stroller? IT HAPPENED!

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.

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!