New Castle News

June 24, 2013

Photo Gallery, Story: Free ride

Children’s charity helps get wheels turning for special needs kids

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — In summers past, all Brenna Cullers and Andrew Jaskola could do was watch other kids ride by them on their bikes.

That all changed Friday when both children received a special gift — a customized, adaptive bike from Variety the Children’s Charity. The presentation took place at Jameson Hospital as part of the Highmark My Bike Program.

It was a happy day for Brenna, 9 and Andrew, 8. And their mothers were ecstatic, too.

Kandy Cullers of Neshannock Township couldn’t help but brush aside tears as she watched her daughter, who has Down Syndrome, get on the bike for the first time.

“I’m thrilled to death about this,” Kandy said. “It’s another step to independence. We tried other bikes with training wheels but it was difficult for her to pedal and steer.”

When she learned that Brenna would receive a bike, “I sat at the kitchen table and cried. Something as simple as a bike means so much. It seems like a rite of passage.”

Noelle Jaskola described how other bikes also were tried with Andrew, who has spina bifida, but didn’t work out. The Ellwood City resident choked up as she explained, “It’s hard when other kids can ride bikes and he can’t.”

Each bike was also decked out with a ribbon.

Brenna’s first reaction was “cool” as she got comfortable on her new ride. And she wanted to pedal as soon as she sat down.

When Andrew first laid eyes on the bike, he exclaimed, “Yes.”

Brenna, on her neon green bike and Andrew on a shiny red bicycle both rode from the conference room of the hospital out into the sunshine with smiles that never left their faces.

It was a parade of sorts with those two leading the show.

Variety The Children’s Charity provides adaptive bikes to children with disabilities.

“This gives them the freedom of a bike and the joy of riding alongside friends,” said Charlie LaVallee, chief executive officer. LaVallee and Michael L. Schneck, chairman of the board and former Pittsburgh Steeler, addressed the importance of raising awareness of the program.

“We want to see more children in Lawrence County get these bikes,” LaVallee said. “We don’t want to have one child in Lawrence County who needs a bike like this not get one. Every child should be able to ride a bike.”

Doug Danko, president/CEO of Jameson Health Systems, also announced that the hospital will sponsor the next bike to an eligible child in Lawrence County. The cost to sponsor one bike is $1,800.

“It’s great to have this relationship with Variety,” Danko said. “This makes these kids feel much more alive.”

The parents of Brenna and Andrew applied for the My Bike program and the kids were then fitted for the bikes.

Those interested in adaptive bikes may call the Variety office at (412) 747-2680.

Donations may also be accepted to Variety.

Since the program kicked off in November, more than 300 children with disabilities have received an adaptive bike through Variety’s 10-county service area.

“In Lawrence County, we want to get the word out that these bikes are available,” LaVallee said. This is about enriching our children.”

And that sets the wheels in motion.