A BEAUTIFUL MOMENT for twins, Emmalee & Levi

Check out this BEAUTIFUL photo with you of Emmalee, who received her new adaptive bike during a presentation we had in Wheeling yesterday. The best part? She got to ride it FOR THE FIRST TIME with her TWIN BROTHER, Levi, who got a bike from Variety last November.

Talk about a special day —- and this photo says it all (see Levi following along beside his sister).

Photo by The Intelligencer. Wheeling News-Register

The Intelligencer. Wheeling News-Register not only captured this amazing moment, but they wrote one terrific piece to recap our day yesterday. Check it out here: http://www.theintelligencer.net/news/top-headlines/2019/05/local-children-recipients-of-life-changing-adaptive-equipment-from-variety-and-wesbanco-arena/

Rare Coverage We Hope Finds MORE KIDS!

Mia checking out her communication device.

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.

Alayna and her brother riding together.

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!

Alayna posing with her pink bike!

25 Kids Impacted. 25 Lives Changed.

William is pictured below next to his new bike and surrounded by his friends from the Rotary of Westmoreland, who generously sponsored his bike.

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.

Kassie is checking out her new device.

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:

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!

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).

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.

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.

JOY, JOY, & MORE JOY – something to smile about

Miles of SMILES!

This holiday season, Variety had the chance to present more than 80 pieces of adaptive equipment during 5 presentations to kids with disabilities, and it was pure JOY, JOY, JOY!

In partnership with the Central Intermediate Unit #10, Forbes Hospital, PlayWorks, Range Resources, and Saint Vincent Hospital, we presented 35 adaptive bikes, 15 adaptive strollers, and 32 communication devices (worth $123,900).

Here’s a few highlights to smile along with us!

Zane is pictured above “all smiles” with his family on his new bike and showing off his new device.

Zane received his new adaptive bike AND communication device during a presentation with PlayWorks in Morgantown, WV. His mom, Autumn described the bike’s impact simply by saying, “Zane loves being outdoors. He struggles with a regular bike, so he usually chases his sister rather than getting to ride with her.” Now, Zane will get to just be a kid and ride bikes alongside his sister.

Brylee immediately began checking out her new device (her new voice).

For Brylee and her parents, a communication device will have a significant impact to daily life. Her mom, Candace told us,

Though our daughter can be verbal, she really isn’t. When you ask Brylee ‘how was your day,’ or ‘what did you do in school today,’ or ‘what do you want for dinner,’ her response is usually silence. On occasion she will give you just a repetitive response she has heard a million times and what she thinks to be the appropriate response, but it’s mostly a one-sided conversation…which has been one of the most heartbreaking things.

Another big hurdle for us is not knowing what could be wrong with our daughter when she is sick, or when something is hurting her. When you have a child that just starts crying her eyes out for no reason, but cannot communicate to you that her belly hurts, or that she stepped on something and now her foot hurts because she has no way to communicate to you is very freighting.

Being able to know what is wrong with her when she is sick and being able to have more conversations with her that are no longer one sided is huge!

Noah is pictured above feeling comfy in his new stroller.

After Noah got his new adaptive stroller at Range Resources, he and his mom were planning to take a stroll around the Mall at Robinson – something they struggled to do previously. His mom, Christine told us, “We can’t wait for Noah to get his stroller.  It will make going to and from school so much easier.  We will be able to go to the mall, out for walks, and to the amusement park without worrying about Noah running away.  We will not have to strain so much carrying him as well.”

During our five recent presentations, we were grateful to have local media coverage, which will hopefully enable more kids to be identified and receive this life-changing equipment. Click on the links below to share in Variety’s “Tour de Joy”.

  • Presentation with Range Resources (Allegheny County):
    • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    • WTAE-TV

Happy Holidays to you and your family!

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).