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Program provides adaptive bicycles to children with disabilities

Ezekial Weaver, 9, shows off his driving skills on his new adaptive bicycle, with his mom Shamei, guiding from behind. Zeke received his bicycle at the BLaST Intermediate Unit in-service event at the Montoursville Area High School. The bikes were gifted to area students with diverse abilities through the My Bike program at Variety the Children's Charity.

It truly was a beautiful day in the neighborhood on a recent morning as 10 children with diverse abilities were gifted with adaptive bicycles through an initiative that began with the question “What if?” The initiative resulted in a collaboration between community sponsors and Variety the Children’s Charity, which brought the bikes to them through the group’s My Bike Program.

The My Bike Program

provides custom-fit adaptive bicycles to children with disabilities so they can experience the joy and freedom of riding a bicycle.

Dr. Christina Steinbacher-Reed, executive director of Intermediate Unit No. 17, said she had been introduced to the program and its CEO, Charlie LaVallee, at a conference a few years ago. She said that realized at that time it was something she wanted for students in the local intermediate unit. The difficulty was in finding community sponsors, since the intermediate unit’s four-county area was not in the charity’s service area.

After sharing the program to her administrative team and the need to find sponsors in a short amount of time, Steinbacher-Reed said that she told them that she didn’t know if it was something they could do.

“The collective response from that group was ‘How could we not take this on’. There was no choice,” she shared at yesterday’s event.

She noted that having secured the community sponsors, a what if was turned into a what is, which culminated in the presentation of the bikes.

Following his introduction, LaVallee, said that one of his dearest friends was public television personality and children’s advocate Fred Rogers.

“If Fred were here, he would say it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood and we would say it’s a beautiful day in the BLaST neighborhood,” LaVallee said.

Outlining the program which provides adaptive bicycles LaVallee shared stories of individuals who had received bikes through the charity’s efforts.

He told of one 18-year-old who received a bike said it was just like having his own car. He shared how the young man rode his bike up and down the aisles in a room as large as the auditorium and then took time to Facetime his grandmother to thank her for letting his parents know about the program.

“His older brother said, I never thought I’d see you ride a bike. It was a beautiful moment,” he said.

Variety also offers adaptive strollers, which are foldable and lightweight to families who traditionally have dealt with having to deal with wheelchairs if they took their children to stores or restaurants. He shared how one mother said that because of receiving the stroller that they could now go inside a fast food restaurant, something they had never done before because of the effort of taking a wheelchair in and out of their care.

“Isn’t it the little things that are the big things in life, the things we often take for granted” LaVallee said.

Also at the event was former Gov. Tom Corbett, who compared the children obtaining the bikes to flying to the moon.

“It gives them the ability to do something they’ve never done before. The ability to play with their brothers and sisters and their friends and the ability of their parents to put a big smile on their faces every time they get on to ride,” he said.

“This is what we have a duty to do. As a society we need to help those who are a little less fortunate than we are, to have that mobility. To be able to go out and be part of our society,” Corbett added.

There were smiles, big smiles and tears of joy from the parents, as the children moved to claim their bikes. And, the smiles continued as they rode their bikes through the auditorium to the sidewalk outside the school to participate in a bike parade amidst the cheers of the intermediate unit members waiting there.

The presentation of the bikes was part of the intermediate unit’s annual in-service held at Montoursville Area High School.

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