What started as an idea in November, 2012 has become a reality that might become a national model, according to Charles LaVallee, Chief Executive Officer of Variety the Children's Charity. At a cost of $1,800 each, more than 700 bikes adapted to children with disabilities have been given away free of charge in the Pittsburgh region, and 250 more are available.
Monday morning, five more bikes were presented at Pittsburgh Public Schools' Pioneer Education Center in Brookline at an event attended by Mayor Bill Peduto, PPS Superintendent Linda Lane, and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, among others. LaVallee said parents of many eligible children have not yet heard of the program.
"You have to have, obviously, a disability that you cannot ride a typical bike. We have income guidelines, but they’re high. We’re at what’s called 400% of the federal poverty level. An easy way to think about that is $97,000 for a family of four, so that surprises people sometimes. They think, “Oh, we’ve never been eligible for anything."
Twenty-year-old Jacob Buchheit contracted a virus that affected his brain when he was one year old, so according to his mother Eileen, his life has been a struggle. "He has overcome paralysis twice and multiple surgeries and infections and things that go along with that. For him to be 18 is very happy for us and for him to be able to ride a bike is even more happy for us, so we’re very thrilled to be here today."
Jacob's brother, Evan, said he and his brother now have an opportunity they never would have had without the "My Bike" program.
"This Christmas, actually, I got a bike and Jake was a little bummed out that he wouldn’t be able to join me on the many Pittsburgh trails that we’re so blessed to have here. This moment really means that we can share something together. Jacob and I can get up, go out and ride our bikes together and have fun and laugh."
Dinetta Walker adopted her 15-year-old granddaughter Jasmine after she suffered "shaken baby syndrome" at the hands of her father when she was 2-1/2 months old. Walker said the injury came under circumstances that have become all too familiar in media reports.
"The gentleman’s about 20,22,25, and they all wanted them to be quiet. It was the same scenario, as if they had gotten together and made up a story to say because it’s so familiar. So back when it happened to her, that’s all they offered was 'reckless endangerment.' I thought it was 'attempted murder'…they said 'reckless endangerment.'"
Walker said Jasmine has brought exceptional qualities to the challenges she faces.
"Resilience, unconditional love, determination—that’s what she’s full of, so from morning to night, that what we get up to, so she’s my teacher as well," Walked said. "Jasmine’s battled all the way from the floor up literally through standing boards, through wheelchairs, through walkers."
The bikes have been adapted by Blackburn's in Tarentum. Stands are provided to help the kids practice on their bikes indoors. They come apart easily for transporting to safe places to ride.