Making an Impact in the Midst of a Pandemic: PART 1

Dear Variety Friends:

I trust you and your family are all safe and well during this challenging time.

As I take time to reflect, I am truly grateful for all your support over the years and for believing in our work to change the lives of kids with disabilities.

With thanks, I want to send you a series of emails (starting with part 1 today) about the impact we’re having during the pandemic because I thought you would especially appreciate it.

In the midst of this pandemic, I have been inspired and had my life changed by a 17-year old named Corey, who is unstoppable!

This is one of the most incredible stories I have ever shared with you and amazing on many levels. I am sorry it is long… but I guarantee that you will be so grateful that you took in the whole story.

Corey is pictured above with his parents.

Critical background:
Corey receives therapy services and educational programming at Leg Up Farm in York County, Pa.

He had never ridden an adaptive bike until he rode one at Leg Up Farm.

Ever since, he wanted to have one at home, and he was scheduled to receive an adaptive bike and communication device at Leg Up Farm on April 3rd. Every day, he would ask his Speech Language Pathologist, Lu, Is my bike there? Is my bike there?

Corey’s mom, Michelle said that she and her husband (retired army) both love riding bikes, and were excited about the possibility of being able to ride with Corey as a family.

This opportunity to ride together has even more importance because Michelle is battling cancer and currently receiving chemotherapy. She wanted Corey to get the bike while she was healthy enough to ride with him.

April 3, 2020:
The presentation at Leg Up Farm was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Michelle was disappointed about having to wait for the bike, but also that Corey would not receive his communication device because, “Corey is partially verbal – he tries to say everything he reads and tries to communicate, but it is hard to understand him, which is where the device really helps him.”

April 9, 2020:
Michelle approached Lu, who called us, and with Corey’s Occupational Therapist, Nicole, and the leadership of Leg Up Farm, we created a way for Corey and other kids to receive communication devices and adaptive bikes in the middle of the pandemic!

May 9, 2020:
The Saturday before Mother’s Day, Corey received his new communication device thanks to a Special Delivery by Lu to his home.

Corey is pictured holding his new device, which came as a special delivery at his home!

May 15, 2020:
Corey received his adaptive bike at Leg Up Farm.

Corey is taking his new bike for a ride with his dad beside him!

Michelle said, “Thanks to the bike and the device, Corey is making connections with neighbor kids he didn’t have before. This has meant the world to him. He just spent the last two hours playing with kids he has never played with before until now, and they live right around us.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2020:
Corey’s SLP Lu sent us an update, “I am just amazed at how he has blossomed in the last couple days with both the bike and the talker. He so desperately wants to have friends and that bike has given him a way to meet them. Instead of just watching them, now he is joining in. Variety didn’t just give him a bike, it opened up a whole new world for him. Variety has truly made a difference in his life!”

Check this out – here’s a video that Corey filmed himself from a Zoom meeting with Lu and his mom.

And to top it all off!

After only having his device for 10 days and his bike for 5 days, Lu said,  It really was wonderful to see him being so independent with his device. He knew exactly what he wanted to tell you and he wanted to do it completely by himself. Now that he’s seeing just how much he can do by himself, he is gonna be unstoppable!”

Does it honestly get much better than this – that in the midst of a pandemic, in partnership with the therapist and his parents, Corey is becoming empowered to live a dramatically different life.

COREY, THE UNSTOPPABLE… I love it!

Take good care,

Charlie

Charles P. LaVallee
Chief Executive Officer
Variety – the Children’s Charity

Ricky, “I’M SMILING!”

WE ARE GRATEFUL TO RICKY and our partners at Blackburn’s, who are helping us make sure other kids can get their new adaptive bikes during the pandemic!

Ricky is all smiles above!

I hope you’ll check out this 1-minute video that we put together to thank 10-year old Ricky and highlight how grateful we are for his help! Wait until you hear Ricky at the end of the video. It truly knocked me out with joy!

Ricky continues to give back, as his mom, Michelle told us, Ricky has been so excited about his bike. He gave his 2 wheeler with training wheels to his friend that lives across the street. Now, they can ride together and Ricky is just one of the kids. This is a game changer for him!” 

With great joy, one of our Central Pa. partners are using the training videos to safely give out 5 adaptive bikes this week!

We’re jumping for joy to continue our work of impacting kids with disabilities!

JOKES WITH JACOB

Variety would like to invite you to the PREMIERE of JOKES WITH JACOB, a social media Smile Series that hopes to bring a smile to your face.

Beginning this Wednesday, April 1st at 4:00 PM on Variety’s Facebook Page!

Jacob has truly inspired us with his attitude, especially in light of all the adversity he’s faced in his life.

Jacob is all smiles to share his jokes with us!

23-year old Jacob has been involved with Variety since a young age and received adaptive equipment. What really stands out to us about Jacob is his strong desire to give back and help more kids.

His jokes are beautiful and his laugh is “out-of-this-world” funny.

A few years ago, Jacob joined Variety for a presentation to speak with a group of employees from across Pennsylvania. He used his jokes (told through his communication device) to not only make the nearly 400 attendees laugh out loud, but they were also able to see Jacob, not as a person with extra needs, but as a regular yinzer. Because of Jacob, those attendees were so inspired and raised $40,000 to sponsor 35 more kids with their own communication device!

We believe a smile can change the world. It has the power to inspire us, lift us up, and remind us that there is beauty all around us.

We hope that you will tune into our Facebook Page this Wednesday, April 1st at 4:00 PM to view the first of many, many jokes from Jacob.

Please like, comment, and share, so that we can bring a smile to as many people as possible! Then, check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:00 PM for a new episode of JOKES WITH JACOB!

We are in this together, and together, let’s keep smiling. We believe you won’t be able to help but smile when you see Jacob laugh at his joke.

Checking in with A SMILE!

Tree of Life Rabbi Myers was on GMA this past Friday morning, and he made a terrific point when he said that we need “PHYSICAL distance from others at this time but SOCIAL connection.” Such a good point that we need social connectedness. We are grateful for our connection and all that we have done and are doing for kids with disabilities.

At this challenging time, we wanted to send you a small reminder about the power of a smile.

Issac makes me smile because I know that he has a communication device to not only help him find freedom in communication, but, as his mom describes below, it will help to lessen his own daily frustration.

Issac and his parents are all smiles with his new device!

Issac’s mom, Morgan describes why this device is needed, “Issac’s functional communication has always been a struggle, and it is clearly a source of frustration for him when he tries to communicate but can’t find the words he needs.  Since he started speech therapy, Issac has continued to develop a vocabulary of useful words for requesting objects and observations. With this equipment, we can continue to support Issac as his vocabulary grows, and it is our hope this will help decrease frustration.”

Issac checking out his new voice!

Let’s strive to keep our social connection and find every moment to SMILE!

A 1-Minute Update… Try Not to Smile!

MEET HAZEL

Hazel is all smiles above with her mom!

3-year old Hazel was all smiles, as she checked out her new communication device (and ate a tangerine). She received the device last Tuesday through Variety’s My Voice® Program, and we are still beaming with joy for her and her entire family.

Her mom, Mary told us,

Hazel wants to communicate. She tries so hard to tell us what she wants and what she’s thinking, but she runs into the limitation of her ability very quickly. While Hazel communicates with sign language, she only has about five spoken words, and it’s very difficult for her to form words.

A device like this would be life-changing for us, as it would give her another way to speak to us, and it would give her a consistent aid in hearing spoken words to help her build her own vocal abilities.”

This communication device is a tool for kids like Hazel to find their voice, and be able to express their wants, needs, and feelings to those around them. I don’t know about you, but I would love to hear what Hazel has to say now with her device!

The Impact Doubled for Brayden & Brooke!

On Monday, January 27th, Variety presented adaptive equipment in Erie, and what a day it was!

6-year old Brayden received a communication device AND a bike, and you have to read what his mom shared…

Brayden is pictured above with his mom and new equipment!

“Brayden is nonverbal, so he doesn’t speak, so this device is going to really help him. And it’s just, it gets tough because I’m a single mom at home, I have limited income and I have another child who’s high functioning autistic. She speaks and everything, but she’s just having some trouble with emotions and dealing with others.

And so we just take one day at a time, but he’s just – all of these kids with special needs are such blessings, but it’s hard, it’s really hard sometimes. And you just want to make it as normal for them as possible, because they have enough challenges, so you just want to give them love and help them communicate as best they can. So I’m very thankful.”

Earlier that day, Variety held a Press Conference with City of Erie Mayor Joseph Schember, Saint Vincent Hospital CEO Dr. Christopher Clark, representatives from Intermediate Unit 5, Barber National Institute, and others from the Northwestern corner of Pa. to make a big push to identify every eligible child who could benefit from their own communication device.