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December 20, 2013

Program gears up to give bikes to kids with disabilities

MEADVILLE — It didn’t come as a surprise to anyone gathered in Meadville Medical Center’s Conference Room E Friday morning to hear that kids with disabilities often fall through social cracks.

“They get left out and left behind,” Charlie LaVallee, chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh-based Variety the Children’s Charity told the group of approximately 30 local educators, social service providers and representatives from the non-profit community. Describing a common scene involving a family heading out on their bikes with a disabled family member literally in tow, “How does it feel for a child to be dragged along on a bike ride in a wagon?” LaVallee asked.

If LaVallee and his colleagues at Variety have their way, countless Crawford County children will never have to experience the answer first-hand.

The roots of Variety the Children’s Charity date back to Christmas Eve 1928, when a month-old baby was found abandoned in Pittsburgh’s Sheridan Theater and adopted by the Variety Club, a group consisting of the manager of the theater and 10 businessmen.

Today, Variety International has chapters in 11 countries and, according to its website, has raised more than $1.8 billion to provide support for special needs children.

In the words of the Pittsburgh chapter’s “My Bike” program application, the organization’s mission is to “provide children with disabilities unique programs, experience, and equipment so they may live life to the fullest. Variety works to ensure that children with disabilities can participate in the same activities as any other children by providing mobility equipment and social programs to children, ages 21 and under, in 14 counties throughout Western Pennsylvania.” The 14 counties include Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.

Friday’s gathering, which featured Meadville Medical Center President and Chief Executive Office Phillip Pandolph and Jim Ackman, representing Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the program’s founding sponsor, marked the program’s Crawford County introduction.

With the Bike program only 14 months old and rapidly approaching the presentation of its 500th adaptive bike and a pool of 100 bikes waiting for distribution in coming weeks, the immediate goal is to get as many eligible Crawford County children as possible signed up for bikes, LaVallee said.

Children between the ages of 4 and 21 are eligible; each adaptive bike is custom-fit to the measurements and needs of its owner. Of the first 385 adaptive bikes given through the program, the most common diagnoses were cerebral palsy, autism or Down syndrome. Although they’re called “bicycles,” each one three wheels.

To be eligible, an applicant must live in the 14-county area; have a physical, mental or sensory disability documented by a physician; be 21 years of age or younger; submit a letter from a physical or occupational therapist indicating that an adaptive bicycle would be medically appropriate and therapeutic for the child and that a conventional bicycle would not be appropriate; and submit a completed “My Bike” application. Household income must meet program income guidelines of 400 percent or below federal poverty guidelines. A family of four, for example, can earn up to a maximum of $94,200.

The organization is also seeking sponsors for adaptive bikes. The cost of each bike is $1,800; partial sponsorships are gratefully accepted. Donations can be designated for a specific county.

For information about applying for a bike or making a donation, call Meadville Medical Center Foundation at 333-5441; visit the variety website at; or call 412-747-2680.

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at

Learn more

For information about applying for a specially built adaptive bike or making a donation, call Meadville Medical Center Foundation at 333-5441; visit the Variety website at; or call (412) 747-2680.


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