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February 16, 2013

Charity that adapts bicycles for children with disabilities rides into county

NEW CASTLE — A smile forms on 10-year-old Isiah Witkowski’s face when he gets on his blue bike.

It’s no ordinary bicycle.

Thursday, the New Castle boy demonstrated just how special his bike is during Lawrence County’s kickoff and informational meeting of Variety: The Children’s Charity at Jameson Hospital.

The My Bike Program was created to provide custom-designed, adaptive bikes to children with disabilities so they can enjoy the freedom of riding a bike with other kids.

Isiah — with his mother, Jolene Alberico, right behind him — rode his way through a group of Variety representatives, elected officials, hospital administrators, board members and medical staff, and even a former Pittsburgh Steeler who cheered him along. And although he received his bike Dec. 20, the spotlight was again on the youngster on Valentine’s Day — a time when gifts come from the heart. It was also fitting because Variety’s logo is a heart.

The first spoke in the wheel is now in place in the county.

There are 140 adaptive bikes sponsored and ready to be distributed to eligible children with a disability.

The My Bike Program is a partnership with Jameson, Variety and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and includes a 10-county area. The health system is pulling together community leaders whose services and interactions relate with children in order to identify those who an adaptive bike could benefit.

“I’m proud of myself,” Isiah said of being able to ride. “When I got on my bike for the first time, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so amazing.’ And it was amazing seeing other kids’ reactions.”

“We want to give kids mobility and a chance to ride with other kids.” said Charles LaVallee, president/chief executive officer of Variety.

He noted that the cost of a bike is about $1,800. Each one is different depending on the child’s challenges.

LaVallee looks forward to returning to Jameson for bike fitting once eligible applicants have been determined.

He shared how Alberico asked him, “How can I apply for something that I didn’t know existed?”

“This is what today is about. And this is why we want to create awareness of the My Bike Program.”

Doug Danko, president/CEO of Jameson remarked that it’s a wonderful feeling to have a partnership with organizations such as Highmark and Variety.

“We hope the launch of the My Bike Program will result in many Lawrence County kids to receive an adaptive bike,” Danko said.

Mike Schneck, former long snapper for the Steelers and board chairman of Variety, “Kids just want to be normal. This is helping kids be kids.”

The adaptive bike has been a blessing for her son and family, said Alberico.

“I sobbed my eyes out when he got on it,” she explained, adding Isiah could never ride a pedal bike. “Now he can start fitting in with other kids and do what other kids do.”

Alberico’s mother, Marlene McCormick, said it was difficult to see her grandson’s face when other kids got on their bikes.

“We’re thrilled with this foundation,” McCormick enthused.

“We don’t tell kids it’s therapeutic,” LaVallee said of the adaptive bikes, noting they can also be used on a bike for physical therapy. “They think it’s fun.”

For Isiah, who can now steer and control the brakes, the bike represents independence.

Soon, others in Lawrence County may be joining him for the thrill of the ride.

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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