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Special wheels for special kids: Nonprofit provides custom bikes

For kids with special needs, getting the right bicycle or stroller can cost thousands of dollars. A non-profit out of Pittsburgh brings adaptive equipment to NEPA.

MAR LIN, Pa. — Hailee Siller experienced her first moments on her new bike Thursday.

"It was amazing because my old bike was really small, and my mom said I looked kind of smushed in it, so we needed to get a new one," she said.

Hailee's mom, Rita Nelson, says, for the 13 year old from Delano, a regular bike was not an option.

"She was a preemie born early with a brain bleed, so she has spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. And so her legs are tight, balance is off," said Rita. Nelson.

But these adaptive bikes are not cheap.

"To not have to come up with $3,000 for a bicycle, to not have her stay behind is amazing," said Rita.

"It's not something that a typical family can afford out of pocket," Bethany Storms, another mom, added.

That's why Variety - The Children's Charity, a nonprofit out of Pittsburgh, visited Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29 on Thursday to give some away.

CEO Charles LaVallee says these adaptive bikes and strollers are just a few of the more than 185 items given to kids in Schuylkill County over the past four years. In addition to bikes and strollers, the charity also donates communication devices. 

According to the nonprofit, more than $8 million worth of adaptive equipment has been presented to eligible kids throughout the 71 counties it services in Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia over the past decade.

"Every child is worth having this equipment so that they can live life and participate that are being left out so they can be part of riding with their siblings," LaVallee said.

The nonprofit, which is nearly 100 years old, is funded in part by a state grant and relies on donations.

Variety partners with Blackburn's Medical Equipment -- staffers attend these events to help families with their new equipment. LaVallee says the supply company donates to the cause as well.

"The fact that they offer this opportunity to a lot of people is awesome," said Storms.

Kids from all over Schuykill County met at the school Thursday, which hosted the event. 

"Variety approached the state and said, 'Hey, we've got this great thing. We'd love to have a relationship with you guys,'" said Debra Arnold, special education director for Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29.

"It is awesome for me as their therapist to just see the progress they've made just with a simple piece of equipment," said Emilee Barkus, a physical therapist assistant for Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29.

The adaptive bikes allow parents to help kids steer as they're getting the hang of riding them. And when it's cold out, the bikes can become stationary so kids can ride them inside.

"I can ride it with the stationary stand in my house and just chilling there, like, I could just sit there and ride my bike as I'm watching TV or doing whatever," Hailee said.

The nonprofit covers 59 counties in Pennsylvania. To see if you're eligible and apply, you can contact Variety here.

Check out WNEP’s YouTube channel.  

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