“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/.
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.
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.
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.
For the 5th year in a row, Variety was given the chance to participate in the Labor Day Parade through downtown Pittsburgh, and it was a record year for us! We had 28 Variety kids participate alongside more than 160 family members / partners.
With special thanks to the United Steelworkers’ Leo Gerard, our kids were personally greeted by former Vice President Joe Biden, which was a huge moment for everyone!
Steven was especially thrilled to see Biden once again, as he was featured on the front page of the New Castle News in 2015 when he got to meet the then Vice President at the Labor Day Parade.
Each of our kids braved the heat on Monday with a smile, as they were celebrated and cheered on by parade attendees. For Gabby, it was a significant day, as she hasn’t been able to ride a bike like she used to due to her battle with cancer. Riding her new bike in the parade on Monday was especially a big treat, since she had to get chemo treatment on Tuesday.
You might remember Gabby from a recent update. She was the 12-year old who couldn’t wait to “pop a wheeley in the middle of the street” on her new bike.
On Thursday, July 19th, Variety was given a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to present 21 adaptive bikes to children with disabilities at Heinz Field, and it was a truly extraordinary day!
The kids got to ride their new bikes for the first time through the Steelers’ tunnel and onto Heinz Field to cheers of celebration from our attendees (waving Terrible Towels).
The day was made possible by the incredible commitment and generosity of Andrea Carelli, who from the beginning wanted to do it for the kids. Andrea acted as a catalyst to get “My Bike” rolling by writing the first check to sponsor a bike in 2012, and since then, her momentum and passion for our kids has only escalated.
One of the most special moments yesterday was the reaction of Kobe, 18, who shed tears of pure joy to be receiving his very own bike. Kobe came surrounded by more than 20 family members (his team) that were there to celebrate with him and see him shine. A majority of the 21 adaptive bikes were made possible because of the sponsorships generated by Leo Gerard and the United Steelworkers.
For kids like Emma, age 10, her new PINK bike means something that she can do with her twin brother and parents.
Emma’s mom, Dorothy went further to say, “This bike will give Emma and her twin brother, Evan something they can do together again. We will be able to get outside and do something we all enjoy. Emma and I won’t be stuck in the house while her dad and brother get to go out and ride. There are few things that we all are able to do together now as a family. Plus, Emma will get the exercise she needs while on a safe piece of equipment, which will boost her confidence and independence! It’s a win, win for all of us!”
In addition to the photos, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a wonderful video montage of the event that really gives you a feel for the energy, excitement, and joy that was with us yesterday. Check it out here: https://liber.post-gazette.com/video/?v=5811335048001
You can see more photos (AND SMILES) from the day by visiting Variety’s Facebook Page (click here).
Variety’s team of supporters spans throughout our 54-county service area, and that supports is anything from giving a donation of time/money to expertise to simply spreading the word about our programs in local communities. YOU are part of the VARIETY TEAM, and we truly could not accomplish these life-changing moments without you.
Saturday, April 21st was a day full of joy, freedom, and fun, as Variety presented 13 adaptive bikes through its “My Bike” Program to local kids with disabilities alongside Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, United Steelworkers’ International President Leo Gerard, and nearly a hundred attendees at the Carpenters Training Center!
Governor Wolf and Leo Gerard even led our kids in the bike parade around the facility and outside (click here to watch it for yourself)!
You can also view all the smiles from the presentation by clicking here!
During the program, Governor Wolf gave voice to what the day and Variety’s “My Bike” Program meant by saying,
“I want to point out first that this is a really big day for Pennsylvania, and I think this showcases the best of who we are. This is giving freedom. This is letting kids, be kids, and that’s what we ought to be about, and that’s what this is all about.
The partnership between organized labor and families in need – this is humanity at its best. This is who we are as human beings. This is who we are as Pennsylvanians, and I think we ought to celebrate this every single chance we get.
I am proud to be a part of this, and thank you for leading the way here in Western Pennsylvania.”
Katie, age 6 was 1 of the 13 kids to receive a new adaptive bike, and Katie’s bike was generously sponsored by Highmark (the Founding Sponsor of Variety’s “My Bike” Program), which was represented by Dan Onorato at the event.
Katie also received her new communication device on Saturday thanks to USW’s efforts!
Katie’s grandpa, Tom is the Training Coordinator for the Carpenters Training Center (where the event was held), so it was an extra special day for their family. Katie’s mom, Christy described what the communication device would mean by saying,
“Katie has a very difficult time expressing herself with words. She becomes very frustrated when she cannot communicate her needs. This frustration can lead to meltdowns. She uses a device in therapy and it has proven to be very successful in helping her express her needs. My husband and I, along with her outpatient speech therapist believe this device will help her be more successful in school and in her everyday life.”
Variety was grateful to have partners like Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and PA Congressman Conor Lamb join us for the special day, in addition to so many others!
Our sincerest thanks to everyone that helps to make these smiles possible from their time, support, and passion – you are a hero to our kids!
Talk about a night of impact for kids with disabilities at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ “Hockey is for Everyone” event on Monday, March 5th!
The true highlight of the event was Jacob Buchheit, a Variety Ambassador who has truly helped to elevate the work of Variety in extraordinary ways. His time and involvement to our organization has acted as a ripple to us impacting the lives of so many more children.
At the event on March 5th, Jacob was at the center of it all, as Variety was presented with a check for $18,000 by the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Foundation to sponsor 10 more adaptive bikes, as part of Leo Gerard’s campaign last year to raise $500,000 to sponsor more adaptive equipment for kids.
Variety and Jacob were joined by Pittsburgh Penguins’ CEO, David Morehouse and other Penguins’ executives, who shared in Jacob’s joy, as he showed them (with such pride) videos of him with the Mighty Pens sled hockey team on his communication device.
You probably remember that Jacob was featured in Highmark’s Living Proof spot on his adaptive bike, and then he was featured in a Highmark advertisement in the Ice Time program booklet throughout last year’s Penguins season.
Well, Jacob brought a handful of these booklets, and he handed them out (with his autograph) to the entire group!
Additionally, Jacob was featured throughout the game riding his adaptive bike on the jumbo-tron (a video produced by the Penguins), in the Highmark Living Proof spot, and then on the ice riding his sled hockey between periods with a handful of other kids – talk about a celebrity!
Here’s a clip of what was shared at the game – don’t miss Jacob’s reaction at the end in seeing himself on the big screen!
Jacob’s journey has been nothing short of a miracle, and I’m sure you will smile as you read more about him and the impact that Variety has had on his life in this piece that was written by the Penguins and featured on their site.
Prior to Monday’s hockey game, Jacob received the 2018 Bob O’Connor Spirit of Pittsburgh Award from the Bob O’Connor Foundation on Saturday, March 3rd!
The entire community is part of this incredible team that we have built at Variety, and the impact that we have had on so many kids like Jacob and their families. This is only the beginning for the impact that we will create for kids, and we are excited about what we will do together in the years to come!
Three Variety kids (Jacob, Cody, and Tyler) and their families had the opportunity to meet and interact with Vice President Joe Biden on Monday, February 12th, while he was in Pittsburgh for his American Promise Tour.
Vice President Biden was absolutely fantastic with the kids, kneeling on one knee to directly look into their eyes as he was speaking to them, and affirming their worth and dignity. Jacob and Cody came to the event in their adaptive strollers that were given to them by Variety, as you see in the picture below.
Tyler and Jacob used their communication devices to talk with VP Biden and it was incredible!
Jacob even showed the VP a photo of him riding his adaptive bike, as well as a picture of his Mighty Pens sled hockey team. A couple weeks ago, Jacob had been playing in Canada with the Mighty Pens, and then this past weekend, they were in Ft. Wayne, where Jacob scored two goals / named the team MVP.
The Mighty Pens has been a fantastic experience for Jacob (and so many other kids).
VP Biden and Jacob had a wonderful interaction regarding black / gold rosary beads. Please see the photo below and story that I thought you all would find meaningful, especially as a continuation to Jacob’s journey and impact.
Jacob also used his communication device to pull up a picture of the Philadelphia Eagle’s logo, and to say through his device, “Congrats on the big win! Go Birds!”
In response, Vice President Biden told Jacob when he landed in Pittsburgh, a stranger approached him and said, “I know you’re deeply religious and Catholic, and a Philadelphia Eagles fan, but here in Pittsburgh, we have Nuns who make rosery beads in black / gold.” This stranger gave the Vice President a set of them.
Vice President gave those black / gold rosary beads to Jacob – something that he will always treasure.
Then, the Vice President told Jacob that he was making a difference (which is true, as Jacob has been an asset and ambassador to Variety to help us, help more kids).
Jacob’s brother, Evan told me this morning that as the Vice President was speaking and said he knew he wanted to make a difference with his life, but wasn’t sure how that would manifest itself – that Jacob was connecting in his mind at a deeper level that the Vice President of the United States was saying that HE wanted to make a difference, and told Jacob that JACOB was making a difference.
Evan went further, saying, that these words of the Vice President really reached into Jacob’s heart. Evan was touched so deeply because he saw that his brother Jacob was gaining a deeper understanding, and that he was given hope that he too could follow in the footsteps of the Vice President and make a difference – regardless of his disability.
On Friday, November 3rd, Variety celebrated its 90th Annual Gala at Heinz Field, and it was a night to remember!
Highlighting Variety kids & partnerships, the evening showcased an adaptive bike parade featuring children with disabilities, former Governors Tom Corbett and Ed Rendell, PA Department of Labor & Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak, United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard, and Jones Day Partner Roy Powell.
Our organization was honored to present Leo Gerard with our 2017 Catherine Variety Sheridan Humanitarian Award and Roy Powell with the 2017 Variety Advocacy Award. A very special thanks to our 2017 Presenting Sponsors: Highmark, Jones Day, Peoples, & PNC.
To make the evening even more special, honoree Leo Gerard announced that he and USW International raised approximately $500,000 to provide more adaptive equipment to eligible children with disabilities through Variety’s programs!
WPXI-TV put together a terrific story highlighting USW International’s commitment and support that you can view by clicking here.
On Tuesday, June 6th, Variety had an incredibly exciting morning at the United Steelworkers International headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh!
Leo Gerard, USW International President and USW had sponsored 10 communication devices recently, and we started our identification efforts right away to all USW members. On Tuesday, Leo and Variety CEO, Charlie LaVallee presented the first two communication devices to children of USW members. This special presentation was made even more extraordinary as Leo invited about 80 USW members to the lobby of the building to share in the joy of these kids receiving their new devices.
One of the two kids to receive his very own voice was Tyler, age 5, who immediately began using the device at the event. Tyler’s mom, Jen just sent this message to us today:
“We just wanted to thank all of you again so much for yesterday!!! Tyler has not put it down since he got it. He is so happy to have his new device. He was able to type out a sentence and tell us exactly what he wanted for lunch. He’s so proud of himself and loves being able to show us what he needs!!! He has had the biggest smile and has been showing it to everyone he sees! We appreciate everything so much more than you will ever know!”
Additionally, Tyler’s grandmother, Colleen wrote to us last night, saying, “Our family is so appreciative of what your organization has done for Tyler. It was a very impressive presentation and having the employees watch was awesome. He has put it around his neck when he walks and is so proud of it. He has been spelling words and practicing what he wants to say. We are forever grateful for giving Tyler a voice.”
Lastly, Leo’s words regarding the communication device had a simple, but significant impact. He said, “I don’t view it as a cost, I view it as an investment.” Variety sincerely thanks Leo and all of USW for their support, commitment, and passion to change the lives of children with disabilities.