Adaptive bikes offer new possibilities for local children

It’s been a long time since Emma Miller rode a bicycle.

That was until Wednesday afternoon.

Her mother, Jaimie Miller, of State College, said previous attempts to get her daughter, who has Down syndrome, to ride an adaptive tricycle have been unsuccessful.

“It was too hard for her to manipulate, and there was nothing else for us to buy,” Miller said. “We did our best, but there was no options we knew about until now.”

The 9-year-old Corl Street Elementary School student was one of 10 students from Bald Eagle, Clearfield and State College area school districts to receive a customized adaptive bike Wednesday afternoon at a ceremony at Park Forest Elementary School.

They were donated to the students by Variety, The Children’s Charity — a Pittsburgh area-based organization founded about 90 years ago that helps children with disabilities. The organization started in 10 western Pennsylvania counties and expanded to 50 across the commonwealth.

CEO Charlie LaVallee said the goal is to make resources available to children in all of Pennsylvania.

One of the charity’s signature programs provides customized bikes to eligible children with disabilities. Children and their families are eligible based on income guidelines, but LaVallee said that makes up a broad range.

“Even if you make up to $97,000 for a family of four, you can still qualify,” he said. “It’s open to the middle class, too. All the family has to do is download an application, fill it out and send it in.”

The organization has donated more than 1,100 adaptive bikes to Pennsylvania children with disabilities.

Each bike, LaVallee said, is valued at about $1,800.

“That’s a lot for anyone to spend, but we’re here for those families who might need our help,” he said.

Organization representatives shipped 10 adaptive bikes to Park Forest Elementary School to distribute to the kids during a ceremony on Wednesday.

“It’s hard to put into words how great this is and how much it means,” Miller said. “It just brings so much joy to us to see the excitement in the staff knowing they’re doing something that makes a huge difference in our lives.”

When accepted into the program, organization staff works with the child’s physical therapist or occupational therapist, who suggests the kind of accessories needed to make the bike operable for the specific child.

Some of those accessories include a guide bar that allows a guardian to help steer the bike when the child is unable to. It may also include straps to help keep the child from falling off the bike.

Emma’s mother said one of the best parts of her daughter’s new bike is the rectangular handlebar that allows Emma to steer easier, balance better, and provides more surface area to grip.

As students were helped onto their bikes, State College Area School District Director of Special Education Sharon Salter led the students in a series of laps around the school’s gymnasium.

Salter was provided with a demo adaptive bike to ride.

The idea to bring the charity to the area was sparked in January when custodian Jim Fogleman heard about Variety, The Children’s Charity though his union, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

Fogleman primarily works at the building on Fairmount Avenue that houses the Delta Program and the special education central offices.

There, he presented the idea to Salter.

“It just a beautiful picture of how we can work together to get things like this done,” Fogleman said.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo