Meet Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety Children’s Charity:
After 20 years working on behalf of uninsured kids at Highmark, Mr. LaVallee wanted to do something more. After the death of his stepson, Mr. LaVallee took a piece of advice from his good friend Fred Rogers (yes, THE Mr. Rogers), who told him to take his heartache and do something with it. So Mr. LaVallee started to wonder: “How do you take an idea and drive it into the community?"
The struggles of children living with disabilities had always been on the forefront of his mind, and Mr. LaVallee knew he wanted to focus on making these children a priority. Thus, Variety’s “My Bike” Program was born.
Variety is a children’s charity that gives kids with disabilities fun experiences, unique opportunities and equipment so that they can live productive and fulfilling lives. “My Bike” is an offshoot of the program, that focuses on providing adaptive bikes that are customized to fit each individual child’s particular needs. Since the program began in 2012, more than 550 bikes have been sponsored.
“I knew that this program would help kids, but I never anticipated how it would change my own life, as well,” a tearful Mr. LaVallee said. “To see kids that have always been told ‘you can’t do this or that’ ride a bike...something they CAN do...it’s overwhelming!”
And the children agree. After asking one of the recipients (a 9-year-old boy) about how it feels to ride, he remarked, “I’m happy and proud.”
Mr. LaVallee added, “After so many feel as though they are always left out, being able to ride is freeing. They don’t look at it as therapy, it’s just fun!”
But, the kids aren’t the only ones who benefit. Mr. LaVallee was particularly moved (and surprised) by how positively the disabled children’s siblings reacted. Being able to ride a bike with their brother or sister, seeing the joy and liberation on their siblings’ faces improves the quality of life for everyone in the home, as well. It is transformative.
So many families don’t even realize that this program is available or accessible to them. But families can make 400 percent above the federal poverty level (meaning a family of four can have income of $94,000 a year and still qualify for one of the adaptive bikes, which cost $1,800 each.) One young boy with Down Syndrome was so enchanted with his own adaptive bike that he raised the money to purchase one for another child, “so he could give back.”
This, of course, was the point in our conversation where both Mr. LaVallee and I were crying. Children are the true teachers in life.
Check out www.varietypittsburgh.org/MyBikeProgram.asp for an application. Also call Variety’s main office 412-747-2680 for details on donating to the cause.
Aubrey was presented Bike #1 through Variety’s “My Bike” Program during the official kickoff event on November 5, 2012 at PNC Park with Governor Corbett.
“Aubrey really loves her new bike! It’s her new-found freedom! The best part is…Aubrey doesn’t want to get off!...but that is another story all together. We are so very grateful for this wonderful bike! Many thanks!” -Jill Boyle, Aubrey’s mom.
Here is a link of Aubrey riding her adaptive bike around her neighborhood.
Listen to her joy as she rides: