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Charity's bike giveaway at Jefferson Hospital makes riding possible for kids

| Friday, May 8, 2015, 4:01 a.m.
Harlie Marcucci, 16, of West Mifflin takes her first bike ride and is cheered on by her mother Nakesha Marcucci (left), state Rep. Rick Saccone and Jefferson Hospital employees.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Harlie Marcucci, 16, of West Mifflin takes her first bike ride and is cheered on by her mother Nakesha Marcucci (left), state Rep. Rick Saccone and Jefferson Hospital employees.
Jefferson Hospital president and CEO Louise Urban talks with Evan Buchheit (left) and his brother Jacob, a bike recipient.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Jefferson Hospital president and CEO Louise Urban talks with Evan Buchheit (left) and his brother Jacob, a bike recipient.
Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee relives the excitement one young bike recipient experienced after when telling her dad about her first ride.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee relives the excitement one young bike recipient experienced after when telling her dad about her first ride.
Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee gets animated while talking about Variety's My Bike program.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Variety CEO Charlie LaVallee gets animated while talking about Variety's My Bike program.

Riding a bicycle is something most people take for granted.

But for many children, a bike ride is nothing more than a dream.

That dream became a reality for 13 youngsters on Thursday, thanks to Variety's My Bike program.

“This is all she's talked about since she got fitted for a bike,” Nakesha Marcucci of West Mifflin said about her daughter, Harlie, 16.

When she was younger, Harlie had a bike with training wheels but wasn't able to keep her balance. Her mother saw a commercial about the program, went to the website and filled out an application. Once accepted, Harlie was fitted for a custom-made bike.

“I picked blue,” she said, noting she has a pink helmet. “I love my new bike.”

“This is the greatest feeling,” Nakesha Marcucci said as she waited for her daughter to officially receive the bike during a presentation at Jefferson Hospital. “I never thought she would be able to ride a bike. She can ride with me and Sissy.”

“It is a beautiful day because we get to see these kids riding a bike for the first time,” Variety Children's Charity's chief executive officer Charlie LeVallee said. “At Variety, we see ourselves as a family where each child is special and important and valued.”

Thirteen youngsters received bikes, and six were fitted for their first.

LeVallee said the charity started in November 2012 in 10 Western Pennsylvania counties.

“We didn't know if we'd do 100 bikes,” he said. “Now we are in 30 counties and have given 1,000 bikes. We have 10,000 eligible kids but we have to find these kids so they can get out and start having fun.”

Variety has two pilot programs — My Stroller and My Voice — for children with disabilities.

The My Bike program serves youths ages 4-21 who have a disability, who live in one of the service areas and whose household meets income eligibility guidelines.

LeVallee said one child called her father to share her experience while riding a bike for the first time.

“She asked him if he was proud of her,” LeVallee said, “and he said he was.

“What I didn't see coming was being transformed by the kids' joy,” LeVallee continued, reflecting on the impact the program has had on him. “I think that is a lesson to us, that if we are open we will be changed.”

When family members had been shown the proper way to secure their child on the bike, the youth embarked on their first ride. Employees cheered and applauded the cyclists as they rode around the second floor of the Bibro building on the hospital campus.

“It was great,” Nakesha Marcucci said. “I think I smiled the whole time. It was a blessing to see her ride a bike and to hear the people cheering for her. I never thought this day would happen. I am so blessed that I got in touch with such a great charity.”

Leading the parade was Jacob Buchheit, 18, of Carrick, who led the Mon Yough Boston 5K on his adaptive bike.

“The bike has given my brother independence,” Evan Buchheit said. “I didn't have to be there to help him because he could do it himself. You are making dreams come true. To see my brother have freedom to do things I take for granted is amazing. To see Jacob be just like everyone else is great.”

“She is my first grandchild,” a tearful woman said when family members were asked what impact the bikes will have on their children and grandchildren. “She can't walk, talk or eat but she can ride a bike like everyone else.”

“A bike is so much different than a wheelchair,” one father said, noting that his daughter “can now ride with her brothers. This is just so great. We are so excited.”

Jefferson Hospital CEO Louise Urban said the Highmark facility is glad to be involved with the program. She said one focus of the health network, the program's founding sponsor, is on programs that have a direct effect on the health and well-being of the community. Urban said the adaptive bikes will give the children the “ability to experience something that we all can remember as children. It's the perfect day to give a gift of these special bikes to this great group of kids and to celebrate the gift their moms and dads will get as they watch their children enjoying them.”

Joining in the celebration were state Sen. Matt Smith, state Rep. Rick Saccone and AHN's vice president for Women's Health Initiatives Deborah Linhart.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1916, or cfrazier@tribweb.com.

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