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Valley News Dispatch

Adaptive devices boost mobility, spirits at Pittsburgh Mills event

Emily Balser
| Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, 4:15 p.m.
Variety - the Children’s Charity CEO Charlie LaVallee speaks during the adaptive bicycle and stroller giveaway on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Mills mall.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Variety - the Children’s Charity CEO Charlie LaVallee speaks during the adaptive bicycle and stroller giveaway on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Mills mall.
Sarah Blickenderfer-Peck, 20, gets some affection from her service dog, Latte, and a kiss from her mother, Kerry Black, after receiving her adaptive stroller through Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy and Variety - the Children’s Charity on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Mills mall.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Sarah Blickenderfer-Peck, 20, gets some affection from her service dog, Latte, and a kiss from her mother, Kerry Black, after receiving her adaptive stroller through Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy and Variety - the Children’s Charity on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, at the Pittsburgh Mills mall.
University of Pittsburgh sophomore Angelina Veneziano, 20, carries a 3.97 GPA and will use her adaptive bicycle on campus instead of a traditional motorized scooter.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
University of Pittsburgh sophomore Angelina Veneziano, 20, carries a 3.97 GPA and will use her adaptive bicycle on campus instead of a traditional motorized scooter.
Jeff Rukas of Blackburn’s Physicians Pharmacy in Tarentum leads a group of cyclists into the Pittsburgh Mills mall after the annual Variety - the Children’s Charity adaptive bicycle and stroller giveaway on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Jeff Rukas of Blackburn’s Physicians Pharmacy in Tarentum leads a group of cyclists into the Pittsburgh Mills mall after the annual Variety - the Children’s Charity adaptive bicycle and stroller giveaway on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017.

Sarah Blickenderfer-Peck uses crutches and a power wheelchair to help her stay mobile, but she can tire easily from the crutches and her mom has trouble transporting her 300-pound chair.

The family got an early Christmas present Wednesday when they received an adaptive stroller from Variety — the Children's Charity, a nonprofit organization that gives adaptive bikes, strollers and communication devices to children with disabilities.

Now Blickenderfer-Peck, 20, who has cerebral palsy, will be able to join her family on longer outings like a trip to the zoo or an amusement park.

"We need to have something where she can be stable," said Kerry Black, Blickenderfer-Peck's mom. "This will be a huge, huge thing for us."

The family, from Cheswick, was one of about 20 to receive a bike, stroller or communication device Wednesday at the Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer. Variety partners with Tarentum-based Blackburn's Physicians Pharmacy to provide the gifts to families across Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The stop at the Pittsburgh Mills was one of 10 stops along the organization's "Holiday Express" Tour where they are giving away more than 70 pieces of equipment.

"In 2012, the bikes were $1,800 apiece — I didn't know if we could get to 50," said Charles LaVallee, CEO of Variety. "Well, here we are with almost $3 million worth of adaptive bikes."

LaVallee said Variety received a $500,000 donation from the United Steelworkers this year that provided hundreds of pieces of equipment.

"We have 500 bikes, strollers or communication devices funded," he said. "We just have to get the word out for the kids."

University of Pittsburgh sophomore Angelina Veneziano, 20, received an adaptive bike that she will use to get around on campus.

"It's exercise and stretching, which is better for me than just sitting in my wheelchair stationary, without moving," Veneziano said of the bike.

Veneziano was born at just 24 weeks and weighed just over one pound. She has cerebral palsy, but she doesn't let it hold her back.

Eleonora Veneziano said she and her daughter have been involved with Variety for many years and appreciate the equipment they provide to help Angelina be on her own.

"As a parent, that's very rewarding. That's what our job is, to raise our children to be independent and successful," she said. "Having these assistive devices gives them the ability to do that."

Mickey Sgro, who serves on the board of Variety, said Veneziano is the model for younger children with disabilities because she shows nothing can hold them back.

"These kids are not special needs — they're special," Sgro said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, emilybalser@tribweb.com or on Twitter @emilybalser.

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