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Organization helps children with disabilities

Arabella DeClerck, 5, of Newberry, pedals her new bike ,while father Douglas DeClerck walks behind.. Variety and the children's charity In close partnership with the BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 and Blackburn's, presented adaptive mobility equipment to local kids ,including 15 adaptive bikes and 2 adaptive strollers on Friday in Williamsport. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Five-year-old Arabella DeClerck wants to do everything like her big sister, according to her mother Jocelyn Douglass. Now, after receiving an adaptive bicycle Friday from Variety — the Children’s Charity’s “My Bikes” program Arabella will be able to be outside and pedal along just like everybody else. The bike giveaway was held in partnership with the BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 at their headquarters in Williamsport.

“That’s one of her biggest things, she wants to be able to do everything her big sister does. Without having the muscles to do so, limits her. This bike will provide her with a sense of a normal childhood,” Douglass said.

The bike will also enable Arabella to strengthen her leg muscles in addition to enjoying being outdoors.

“It’s going to help her mentally and physically,” her dad Doug DeClerck said.

Both parents said that it was emotional thing , to see their daughter receive the gift of the bike from Variety.

“It means more than words can describe,” said Douglass. “It’s like an answer to prayer.”

“This is going to be something this little girl is going to experience that she hasn’t been able to experience and she’s wanted to for the longest time. She’s going to be doing it herself without us having to do it for her. She doesn’t like to feel like she’s left out,” DeClerck said.

‘This program… is a God-send. It’s something as parents we would not be able to afford to do this for her,” he added.

Since it began in 2012, the program has given away nearly 3,500 adaptive bikes and strollers and communication devices in the 71 counties they serve in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Fifteen bikes and two strollers were being given away locally.

Charles P. LaVallee, the CEO of the charity, which is based in the western part of the state, said that feeling of being like everybody else is one of the important benefits of the program.

“Instead of sitting on the porch watching everybody else going up and down the street, you’re out with the kids, you’re a part of it, you belong,” he said.

“I think too, if they master it (the bike), they get a sense of accomplishment, too. They feel good about themselves. I’m riding. I’m doing this. So, they have that sense of mastery, of confidence,” he added.

LaVallee admitted that when he initially began working with the My Bike program, he did it just to help children with special needs and mobility issues.

“I thought I was doing it for the kids, honestly, and I am, but one thing I have learned is their joy — it totally changed my life,” he shared.

This is the second year that the local intermediate unit has partnered with Variety to give out the adaptive equipment, according to Amy Briggs, director of student services at IU 17. Initially only the bikes were given away locally, but Briggs noted that they have expanded this year to included the other items.

When asked what the benefits were in partnering with Variety, Briggs said,” There are so many benefits. They’re too numerous to mention.”

“I will tell you that it’s absolutely amazing. … It makes the child and the family feel such a sense of freedom. Also to be able to experience this for the first time ever. Some of our students are varying ages. Some of our students are teenagers and for this to be their first experience at getting on a bike and to be able to ride a bike. It’s amazing,” Briggs said.

Briggs noted that the staff at the intermediate unit had worked earlier this year throughout the pandemic, fitting the children who were slated to receive the bikes.

Another young man, Zayden Dieter, 6, also received a bike at the event and was anxious to get moving. Although Zayden is non-verbal, he listened intently as the procedure for operating the bike was explained to his parents, Amber Knarr and Zachary Dieter.

For Zayden, the bike opens up possibilities for exploring the outdoors.

“We are really limited on what we can do outside for him because he can’t walk at the moment. This will just give us so much more to do with him outside,” Knarr said.

Zayden also received a communication device.

“Because he can’t tell us his needs and his wants,” his mom said. “He does a little sign language, so we’re just blessed with everything they provided for us,” she added, getting a little emotional.

The program is open to children and youth between the ages of three and 21 who have a documented, mental, physical or sensory disability and live in the charity’s service area. There are income and eligibility requirements, but LaVallee said that they encourage people who are interested to apply either by contacting Variety-the Charity online, or the local intermediate unit.

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