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Charity helps Kittanning family through new program

| Saturday, March 7, 2015, 1:06 a.m.
Reese Neal, 8, takes her sister Reagan, 6, for a test spin in her new adaptive stroller Friday. Friday March 6, 2015,
Louis B. Ruediger | Trib Total Media
Reese Neal, 8, takes her sister Reagan, 6, for a test spin in her new adaptive stroller Friday. Friday March 6, 2015,

A stroller from Variety the Children's Charity is going to make life a little easier for 6-year-old Reagan Neal and her family.

Neal, who has developmental issues from a brain injury, was the first recipient in the Pittsburgh-based charity's “My Stroller” program on Friday in ACMH Hospital in East Franklin.

Before getting the stroller, which can be adapted to the child's special needs, the Kittanning family had relied on more cumbersome options — such as a wheelchair — to transport their daughter.

“We're going to be able to do more things as a family because it will be easier to help Reagan get around and go places,” said her mother, Kim. “We didn't always have the opportunities to go everywhere we wanted to because we just didn't have the space to take everything she needed.”

The lightweight stroller has a high back, safety straps and soft, water-resistant cushioning to support her. The stroller would have cost the family $1,200 were it not for Variety's program.

“We're really trying to listen to parents who have children with disabilities, see what they need and be their helpers by trying to provide what they need,” said Charles LaVallee, the charity's chief executive officer. “There's nothing better than being able to help families and their children experience everything life has to offer.”

“My Stroller” is one of two programs the charity is piloting this year. The other, “My Voice,” provides families with nonverbal children with iPads loaded with communication software to help them talk with their families electronically.

During the programs' first phase, the charity will give out six strollers and four iPads.

“If we find the demand is growing for these items, we will continue to offer them,” LaVallee said.

Variety receives funding through endowments from several large corporations and other private donors in Pittsburgh. The charity's first program was “My Bike,” which has provided about 1,000 bikes that can be adjusted to fit the needs of children with disabilities, LaVallee said.

In Armstrong County, the charity has given out 35 bikes. Variety officials estimate at least 230 Armstrong County residents between the ages of 5 and 20 have a disability that would make them eligible to receive bikes, strollers or iPads, but they don't know about the charity's programs.

“Obviously, there's a lot more people out there who need help,” LaVallee said. “Part of what we've learned is families don't even look for these services. But we are here and we want to help as many people as we can in Armstrong County.”

Neal said the charity makes it possible for families to provide disabled children with recreational opportunities they might not have otherwise. Her family found out about the charity through an Internet search. They received one of the adaptive bikes for their daughter last summer.

“When a child is diagnosed, there are so many services and things that they need,” Neal said. “It's good to know there are places like Variety who will give us opportunities to have fun together.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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