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Pittsburgh charity helps to provide special bikes

Mirror photo by Rick Boston / Anaea Kuhne, 17, of Everett learns how to ride her new bike, with help from Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 Physical Therapist Kara Madara.

The mask she was wearing couldn’t contain the smile on Anaea Kuhne’s face as she rode her bike around the parking lot of Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 in Altoona.

Anaea, 17, of Everett, was at the IU8 on Tuesday to be fitted for a special bike that will enable her to join her mom and siblings on family runs and bike rides.

Anaea has Down syndrome and her physical limitations prohibit her from riding a traditional bike.

Anaea’s mother, Julie, said getting a bike is going to change Anaea’s life. Julie said her family likes to go on runs and bike rides but because of Anaea’s limitations, she had to stay behind with someone.

“We are a very active family and like to go on walks and Anaea comes along,” Julie said. “We also like to run and ride bikes and someone would have to stay behind with Anaea, but now we can all go out together.”

Lori Barnes couldn’t hold back the tears as she watched her son, Dominic Giarth, 13, ride his bike.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “He can keep up with us now. He would usually have to walk behind but now he can ride his bike and keep up.”

Anaea and Dominic received their bikes through Variety Children’s Charity of Pittsburgh.

Charles LaVallee, Variety’s chief executive officer, said kids with disabilities should be given the opportunity to communicate and to participate in activities, and he is determined to give them the tools to do so.

Variety fits kids, ages 3 up to their 22ndbirthday, with customized bikes so they can safely ride, communication devices to be able to more freely express themselves and strollers so kids can be more mobile.

LaVallee said although Variety is based in Pittsburgh, they serve 59 counties, including Blair, Bedford and Cambria.

“People see we are in Pittsburgh and think maybe it’s too far for them to apply for the program,” he said. “We want to reach as many families as we can.”

LaVallee said people can go to the website, www.varietypittsburgh.org, which lists the counties served and income guidelines.

“Another reason some families don’t apply is because they think they won’t meet our income guidelines,” he said. “But a family of four can make up to $130,000 and be eligible.”

Getting a bike or a communication device into the hands of kids who need them is an endeavor LaVallee has committed his life to.

“They didn’t choose the challenges they were born with,” he said. “We all need to come together for them.”

Mickey Sgro, a Variety board member, said seeing a kid get on a bike for the first time is an experience he cherishes.

“It’s just amazing,” he said. “You get to see kids do something that nobody thought they could ever do. It is really rewarding to see a child accomplish that.”

Sgro said bikes are usually given out in large groups with the kids forming a parade and riding them around, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they had to give them out individually.

“We knew when the pandemic hit that it was going to change everything,” he said. “But pandemic or no pandemic, we wanted to get this equipment to the kids.”

For Anaea and her mom, Julie, Variety’s determination to get the kids what they need is going to change their lives.

“I don’t know how to thank them enough,” Julie said. “We are so grateful.”

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