8 special needs kids in Westmoreland get bicycles
Eight adaptive bikes, each bearing a big red bow and a placard with a child's name, were parked at the front of a room in the Greensburg Garden & Civic Center Wednesday afternoon.
Within minutes, eight enthusiastic special needs children strapped on helmets, exchanged high fives and claimed their new wheels.
As they headed down a hallway and outside for a bike parade, many of them riding for the first time, family members and visitors burst into applause.
Haleigh Sabella, 14, of Latrobe wore a big grin as she dismounted.
“It was fun,” she said.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” said her mother, Melissa Sabella.
Haleigh has a rare genetic syndrome that causes seizures, her mother said. It's not easy for her to participate in sports, but she understands that exercise is important.
After receiving a bike through Variety the Children's Charity's My Bike program, Haleigh can join her two siblings on bike rides.
“We are looking forward to getting out and riding together as a family,” Sabella said.
The My Bike program is a new Variety initiative that provides equipment and experiences to children with disabilities.
Shawn Hanes, 12, of Arnold, had previously ridden a modified adult trike.
It was stolen from the family's yard six months ago said his mother, Bobbie Hanes.
Jim Hanes said his son has Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. The bike should help his motor and balance skills, his parents said.
“It's really phenomenal when eight kids get a blessing like this. It makes you feel better about the world,” Bobbie Hanes said.
The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County provided a grant to Variety for the bikes, which cost $1,800 each and are custom-made for their recipients.
“Here are kids who would never be able to ride a bicycle if they did not have adaptive bikes. ... Can you imagine the energy, the excitement?” said Jim Bendel, foundation executive director.
The children were fitted for their new bikes prior to Wednesday's formal presentation and test rides.
Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas said he has a special needs son who received a bike through the program.
“It's fun and liberating at the same time. This is a tremendous opportunity for our kids to make the most of their childhoods,” Kopas said.
The program recently celebrated its first anniversary and expanded from the 10-county Southwestern Pennsylvania region to include Somerset, Cambria, Crawford and Mercer counties and West Virginia.
“In our first year, we gave away 365 bikes, a bike a day,” said Charles P. LaVallee, chief executive officer of Variety.
“We have 90 bikes, and we're looking for the kids. We've got to get the word out,” LaVallee said.
For more information or to sponsor or apply for a bike, visit www.varietypittsburgh.org.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.