Making a difference, one bike at a time

Initiative makes available special bicycles to special needs children

March 8, 2013
Congressman Tim Murphy, R-USC, kneels to offer support for four-year-old Tyler Carpenter of Waynesburg as he prepares to take his first bike ride. Carpenter, who has Downs syndrome, received the adaptive bike through the “My Bike” program. His big sister, Hailey, 7, watches over his shoulder. - Tara Kinsell / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

WAYNESBURG – It’s a big day in a child’s life when the training wheels come off that first bicycle. With it comes a sense of independence, accomplishment, and pride. For many children with mental or physical disabilities, a moment like this often seems out of reach. But now, these area children have the same opportunity.

Thanks to an initiative of Variety the Children’s Charity and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, a program to provide bicycles individually adapted to their special needs is available. Two children received their bikes Friday at Southwest Regional Medical Center and a third child was fitted for one. There are currently 140 available for children in Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

“You’re going to see a little bit of history-making today,” said Charles LaVallee, chief executive officer of Variety, as the first presentation in Greene County took place at SWRMC. “We’ve united because these children matter. It is pretty simple in the end; we can make a difference.”

There weren’t many dry eyes left in the room when Waynesburg youngsters, Hayden Jack and Tyler Carpenter, both four-years-old, sat in their bikes for the first time.

Tyler’s mother, Crystal, spoke through tears, “Thank you so much. It means a lot that he’s going to be able to get to ride a bike.” The room broke into applause and more tears when a beaming Tyler took his first ride across the room.

Hayden’s father, Adam, said he and his wife, Jennene, were overjoyed that their little girl would have this chance to experience the joy of riding a bicycle.

Congressman Tim Murphy, who took a knee to help Tyler get started, said most people seek out government officials asking where help can be found.

“In this case, it is the other way around,” the Upper St. Clair Republican said. “How do we find the kids to take advantage of this program?” He called on those in attendance, including his colleagues senator Tim Solobay and State Rep. Pam Snyder, to help.

There is no cost to recipients who meet the program’s income guidelines. A family of four earning up to $92,000 a year are eligible. This is made possible through the generosity of individuals, groups and corporate sponsors.

LaVallee said he recalled a nun who walked up to him and placed a crumpled dollar bill in his hand with a blessing for the program. In many ways, he said he valued this donation more than a check for $5,000. He recalled the words of his friend, the late Mr. Rogers, who said, “Anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me.”

Variety the Children’s Charity and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield kicked off the “My Bike” program in November in with help from the Governor Tom Corbett. Since that time, 240 bikes have been distributed. “We wanted to do this, not only in Pittsburgh, but everywhere, in the rural areas,” LaVallee said.

Pierre “Petie” Boudreau, 13, of Rices Landing was in one of the first groups of children to receive a bike.

“I never really thought about him riding a bike until a flyer came home from school one day. I filled out an application and he was chosen,” said mom, Ellen Guesman Boudreau. Petie and his brother, Jacques 12, are autistic.

LaVallee called Boudreau to ask her to attend the event Friday. In casual conversation, he realized more than one of her sons could benefit from the program. He asked her why she had only applied for Petie, and not her younger son. Boudreau said she didn’t want to be selfish and take a bike another family might receive. But, Lavallee has a dream. “Maybe one day every child in America with a disability can have a bike and be like every other child.”

Jacque was fitted for his own adaptive bike Friday.

For more information about how to apply for a bike or to become a sponsor of the “My Bike” program, visit the Variety the Children’s Charity website at, or call 412-747-2680.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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