Hempfield event pairs disabled children with adaptive devices, bikes
William Gunther will be able to ride a bicycle alongside other kids in his Unity neighborhood and Sarah Carl will be able to tell her parents what she wants to eat when they plan meals in their Penn Borough home.
Those are just two of the benefits of Wednesday’s presentation of four adaptive bikes, 10 communication devices and a stroller to area children with special needs.
Wexford-based nonprofit Variety – the Children’s Charity gave away more than $20,000 worth of the adaptive items during a program at the Ramada by Wyndham Greensburg Hotel & Conference Center in Hempfield. Contributing to the cause were the Rotary of Westmoreland, which donated $1,800 for one of the bikes, and the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, which raised $2,730 when 78 employees of the educational organization each paid $35 to be able to “dress down” on seven days throughout the school year.
William, 7, has Asperger syndrome, a condition that is part of the autism spectrum, and lacks the muscle tone and balance to properly ride a standard bicycle.
“I couldn’t keep my feet on the pedals,” he said. “I had to go scraping my feet on the floor.”
With his new cycle, a three-wheeled version he received through Variety’s My Bike program, he said, “I’m planning to ride down the hill on summer vacation and weekends.”
“He’s going to be able to ride with the kids on the street now, instead of sitting on the sideline,” said his grandmother, Jaunita Gunther. “It’s important to fit in, to be a part of the community.”
Giving kids who have physical or developmental challenges the opportunity to “live life to the fullest and not be left out, left behind or excluded” is Variety’s goal, according to CEO Charles P. LaVallee.
Often in such cases, he said, “The little things are the big things, to have shared moments.”
Sarah, 16, is one of four children of Sam and Stacey Carl who have special needs. Her multiple disabilities include spina bifida and microcephaly, a head that is smaller than normal.
She received a bicycle and a stroller through previous Variety giveaways. “She uses it as a stroller when she get worn out with her legs,” her father explained. “She also can use it as a walker. It helps her stability.”
She was all smiles when she received her My Voice communication device Wednesday.
“It’s like Christmas all over,” said her father.
The device will be programmed to help her converse with others, with her individual needs and likes in mind. It will speak the appropriate words when she touches images showing favorite things she wants to eat or do.
Without it, Sam Carl said, eliciting such information from his daughter can be “a guessing game. When you go to McDonald’s, do you want chicken nuggets or cheeseburgers?”
Sarah’s sister, Lacie, 12, has made great strides since she received a similar device.
“She took her My Voice, went to Walmart and communicated with the one cashier,” said her father. “That’s for someone who, the only words she knows are ‘mom,’ ‘dad’ and ‘hi.’”
The Westmoreland Intermediate Unit is a natural partner for Variety, LaVallee said, noting the special education services the intermediate unit provides to local school districts.
“They’re aggressively looking to identify kids for our program,” he said. “Three things we’re trying to do is create awareness, find the kids and find the funds.”
Since November 2012, Variety has provided $4.3 million worth of equipment to children and youth ages 3-21 who have special needs and reside in a service area including 44 counties in Pennsylvania and 12 in West Virginia. Applicants must meet eligibility guidelines.
Visit varietypittsburgh.org for more information about applying for or donating to the program.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .