Letting Kids be Kids is Sometimes not that Simple

Ten-year-old Ricky thought he might not get that new bike he had expected.  The COVID-19 pandemic had made the delivery quite challenging. Many of us remember the childhood anticipation of getting a new bike, and the thrill of taking that first ride.  But for Ricky, it was even more exciting.

Ricky is a happy and enthusiastic child with special needs.  He wants to ride a bike just like any other child. Unfortunately he can’t just pick one out at the local Target or Walmart for a reasonable price. His bike has to be specially equipped and costs around $1,800.  Most families can’t afford that, especially since kids outgrow their bikes quickly.  Without the help of an organization called Variety Pittsburgh, Ricky, and many children like him, would never experience the joy and freedom of riding a bike.

Variety Pittsburgh provides adaptive equipment at no cost to families of children and youth with a mental, physical or sensory disability. A guiding belief is that no child should be left out, left behind, or isolated. Variety’s My Bike® Program provides adaptive bikes that are individually customized to eligible children with disabilities, so that they can experience the joy, freedom, and belonging that’s created through riding a bike.

Variety also has a program called My Stroller®.  Adaptive strollers are foldable and lightweight; they replace heavy and hard to manage wheelchairs for special outings and events. The strollers are much easier to maneuver.  For example, unlike a wheelchair, you can bring one of these strollers down to the beach. Children can sit right next to the ocean for the very first time! The strollers open up a world of opportunity for children with disabilities.


Phillips Charitable Foundation recently awarded a $16,500 grant to Variety Pittsburgh to provide 10 children with disabilities with an adaptive bike or stroller. We were excited to receive photos of Ricky receiving one of those first bikes. Pure joy! His mom explained, “Overall, Ricky has had a very challenging life, especially early on. He has nine medical diagnosis, including autism, chromosome deletion, and low muscle tone.” She said that the bike was going to transform him.

Charlie LaVallee, CEO of Variety Pittsburgh, has grown the service area from 10 counties to 71 since he began there about 7 years ago. When you talk to Charlie, his passion for the Variety Pittsburgh mission shines through. Asked how they were managing during the pandemic, Charlie answered, “We have had to re-organize our processes, but our team is making big strides to continue our work and mission during this time.”

Typically, they hold a large community presentation of equipment but are now having to present each item on an individual basis.  It has definitely put a strain on their staff, partners, and resources.  Charlie explained, “we remain committed to getting this life-changing equipment to the kids, especially as they are typically more greatly impacted than other children.”

With Ricky’s help, Variety Pittsburgh was able to create a bike safety video for Physical / Occupational Therapists. The video enables them to continue presenting adaptive bikes to kids safely and responsibly throughout their service area despite the pandemic. Ricky said that he felt happy helping to make this important video!

Variety also has a program called My Voice®. This program provides communication devices to nonverbal children. With these communication devices children are finally able to communicate basic needs and feelings to their family and teachers. Imagine, for the first time, being able to tell your mom what you want for lunch! It’s a game changer.

The saying “let kids be kids” seems so simple. Yet for the children served by Variety Pittsburgh it’s not simple at all. Whether it’s an adaptive bike, adaptive stroller, or a communication device, Variety Pittsburgh is changing lives. We at Phillips Charitable Foundation were thrilled to learn about this wonderful organization and proud to support their mission. It was an added bonus to remember the childhood joy of receiving a new bike. Ricky clearly loved his!

Here’s a 1-minute video of Ricky on the day he received his new bike.


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