by Jonathan Weaver
10 more Armstrong County children – including four from Kittanning – rode off with a new adaptive bicycle yesterday.
The children received the custom-fit bikes as part of the third local presentation of the “Variety” children’s charity ‘MyBike’ program.
Rhonda Bearer started to cry as she described the impact the bicycles will have on her daughters, Adara, 10 and Alora, 8 – who all live near the village of Oscar in Cowanshannock Township.
“We have three neighbor kids about the same age and they ride their bikes up-and-down the road all the time. The girls could never really participate, but they’re really good friends otherwise – the kids will stop and talk to them at the edge of the driveway. Adara especially – she’ll run her hand along their bikes. Now she’ll be able to ride along, too,” Rhonda said.
Rhonda and husband, Terry, found out about the program at the Watson Institute, a special-needs school in Sewickley (Allegheny County) where the sisters attend class. Tuesday’s ceremony outside ACMH Hospital in East Franklin Township was also the first time she got to see them ride other than their ‘Little Tikes’ and ‘Big Wheel’ at home.
It is also the first real bike for five-year-old Reagan Neal, who started kindergarten last week at West Hills Primary.
Parents Kim and Fred Neal of East Franklin Township said their daughter suffers from hypotonia (low muscle tone) and a brain injury, but now will be able to ride freely through the halls of Harvest Community Church.
“They brought one out to the house for her to trial for one day and she got on it just for a few seconds, but she hasn’t ridden one anywhere herself really, so this is the first time she got to ride around,” Kim said. “It’s great to have the opportunity for her to move by herself and get some therapy at the same time.”
ACMH CEO John Lewis remembered that his first bicycle –a red AMC Lazarus – provided him with “tremendous memories” and that every child should have that feeling.
“Every child should know the value and fun of having a bike,” Lewis said. “It’s always exciting to be part of this, and more importantly happiness, in providing bikes to the children.”
Carly Stanonis of Vandergrift helped steer daughter Allison, 6, and her new bike around the course. The Apollo-Ridge Elementary first-grader first tested out the bike during therapy at school.
“We bought her a bike for Christmas with training wheels- same as her brother (four-year-old Joey), just a little toddler bike – but she couldn’t do it. But, Blackburn brought one of these to Apollo-Ridge Elementary, and she and the other kids tried it in therapy and it worked real well. (The physical therapist) told me about the program and thought Allison would be a good candidate for it,” Carly said.
Allison has been diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by weak muscles and an endless feeling of hunger.
But, she pedaled faster and faster with each lap confidently.
“Variety” CEO Charlie LaVallee told other regional success stories of ‘MyBike’ recipients.
“It’s a beautiful day in the Armstrong County neighborhood today!,” LaVallee said.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Senior Vice-President Jim Fawcett also congratulated “Variety” and was recognized as the first corporate sponsor.
“Variety” has now provided bicycles for 26 Armstrong County children since November.
The other six children who received bicycles yesterday include: Joss Jackson, 9 of Avonmore, Brandon Walls, 17 of Dayton, Ashley Roppolo,13 of Freeport, Joshua Henderson, 7 of Rural Valley, Ivy Dex, 14 of Templeton, and Alexander Mortimer, 15 of Kittanning.