For single mom Clarissa Amond, buying a bicycle for her son "was always out of the question" because of all the pricey customization required for his special needs.
But when she took Greg, 13, who has spina bifida, for a fitting through the "My Bike" program of Variety the Children's Charity, her doubts melted -- along with her heart.
"Greg, who was never on a bike before, got on the trial bike and rode it," she said. "I was in tears and told my mother that this is going to change our lives."
Next Thursday, the Derry Township woman and her son will share their story at an event designed to introduce caregivers, providers and residents to the new initiative to provide children with free adaptive bicycles. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the community education room of Excela Square at Norwin in the Norwin Hills Shopping Center, 8775 Norwin Ave., North Huntingdon.
The idea for My Bike came from Charles P. LaVallee, chief executive officer of the local chapter of the nonprofit Variety the Children's Charity, an organization dedicated to helping children with disabilities live to their fullest.
Highmark Inc. is the sponsor.
"Everyone has a bike, and now kids with a customized one can ride in the neighborhood like the other kids," Mr. LaVallee said.
Variety the Children's Charity -- with 23 chapters nationwide --began as Variety Club International and was founded in Pittsburgh in 1927.
Located in Robinson, the charity provides mobile equipment and social programs to children, ages 21 and under, in 10 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.
At the program's launch in November, the organization announced a goal of 200 sponsored adaptive bicycles by Christmas, which was exceeded: 220 sponsored or pledged vehicles were received.
The cost to sponsor one adaptive bicycle is $1,800.
Mr. LaVallee said the program helps introduce parents to other Variety programs for special needs children, such as parties and outings to sporting events.
"There are a lot of ripple effects if we start with mobility, independence and a sense of belonging," he said.
Ms. Amond said she plans to buy a bicycle to ride on trails alongside her son. She is also looking forward to Greg riding with his cousins at family gatherings.
In the meantime, he also rides his tricycle indoors because it can be manually altered to become stationary.
"He is doing therapy without him knowing it," she said.
Mr. LaVallee said the organization has 140 sponsored bicycles in need of riders, which he hopes next week's event will resolve.
"We want to identify the kids who could benefit by having a bike," he said.
Information on My Bike, including applying and donating, is at www.varietypittsburgh.org/MyBikeProgram.asp; or call 412-747-2680.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com