CLEARFIELD – A Pittsburgh-based charity would like to help local children with disabilities, and is seeking the endorsement of the Clearfield County Commissioners.
Variety was founded in 1927 by a group of 11 theater owners and showmen, and it evolved into a charity the following year. It currently has a network of 42 offices in 13 countries around the world.
Its donors, sponsors and supporters help children – ages 4 to 21 years old – live a better life. Unlike other charitable organizations, Variety focuses on multiple unmet needs of children instead of just one.
Children may have illnesses, live with disabilities or other special needs, and Variety’s programs are available at a local, national and international level.
Variety offers three programs: “My Bike,” “My Voice” and “My Stroller.” The first program provides adaptive bikes to eligible children to give them freedom, joy and belonging.
The “My Voice” program provides devices (currently an iPad with a prescribed app) to allow children to communicate with their parents, siblings, friends and others.
The “My Stroller” program provides adaptive strollers to give children “on-the-go” mobility for them to easily participate in activities within their communities.
Since November of 2012, more than 1,800 adaptive bikes and strollers or communication devices have been sponsored in Variety’s 54-county area in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
It’s more than $3 million worth of adaptive equipment that helps low- to moderate-income families with children with disabilities, said Charles LeVallee, Variety chief executive officer.
But for him, it’s been priceless to witness the life-changing experiences for children, and to see the giant smiles appear on their faces.
The three-wheeled bikes, which aren’t trikes, come in three sizes – small, medium and large – and are customized based upon the needs of each child.
LeVallee said Variety always holds a parade of sorts when they give out the bikes. For most children, it’s’ their first time riding a bike and it gives them the joy of riding with their friends.
A 10-year-old boy was interviewed by the media at a large-scale Labor Day parade. Before he was one, he had the entire left half of his brain removed, and doctors weren’t sure if he’d ever walk or talk.
In his interview, LeVallee said the boy expressed how he wanted to show his “ability to the world” and help other children like himself get adaptive bikes.
The adaptive bikes also come with stationary stands, so that children can ride them year-around.
The “My Voice” program was born when it was discovered children had limited access to communication devices at school but not at all at home.
Children were unable to talk to mom and dad, their brothers and sisters and grandma, which can become very frustrating for families.
LeVallee said it’s important for children to have a voice in the home to communicate they’re in pain and how bad it is, that they don’t feel well, when they need to use the bathroom, etc.
Five weeks ago, Variety gave a five-year-old boy a communication device. Days later, his mother sent LeVallee a video of the boy with his two siblings, and it was the first-time ever they were all able to say “Go Pens” together.
Since then, he’s ordered food for the first time at a restaurant, asked his family to play a game with him and confessed his love for Elsa at an amusement park festival. “All kids should have these experiences,” he said.
The final program “My Stroller” was a request from families. Many weren’t able to take the entire family out if one is wheelchair bound; one parent would usually stay at home with the child with needs.
He said a grandfather became tearful when he got to take his grandson to the Dairy Queen for ice cream. He said it was also meaningful for two brothers to have the freedom of going to a baseball game together.
LeVallee said while there are income guidelines for all three programs, he purposely set them high. For example, the income level must be below $98,400 and $115,120 for families of four and five, respectively.
“It gives us the chance to get low-income families, plus moderate-income families,” he said,” who are spending a lot of money with a child with disabilities.
He shared the story of one family with a child who had a powered wheelchair and they needed an adaptive van. He said they spent more money on the monthly van payment than on their mortgage.
LeVallee said on behalf of Variety, he wanted to find all of the children in Clearfield County who were eligible for an adaptive bike or stroller or communication device.
“We want to build a movement and give kids with disabilities a chance,” he said.
LeVallee asked the commissioners to consider engaging other entities in developing a strategy for an identification campaign for Clearfield County, as it would be life-changing for the children and their families.
For more information or a program application, please visit www.varietypittsburgh.org. Also, you can call 724-933-0460.