A program kicked off in Harrison County which aims to give children with disabilities an experience most take for granted in their childhood: riding a bike.
Variety's "My Bike" Program presented 15 children with disabilities which limit their movements an adaptive bicycle, individually customized to their special needs, during an event Thursday at the Bridgeport Conference Center.
"Instead of sitting and watching, or being pulled in a wagon, now the success is these kids can be just like any other kids," Charlie LaVelle, Chief Executive Officer with Variety, the Children's Charity said. "They can ride with their sibling, they can ride with their friends. When we look back, I think we remember our first bikes and we can remember who we rode with, and that's what we're trying to do for these kids."
The program began in Western Pennsylvania in November 2012 and now serves 15 Western Pennsylvania counties and 10 counties in West Virginia, including Barbour, Doddridge, Harrison, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia, Ohio, Preston, Taylor and Wetzel.
It has provided 54 bikes to children in West Virginia since the program started on April 4, 2014 in the state.
One of the main reasons the program was able provide bikes to the children was thanks to the efforts of Andy and Lisa Lang of Blue Dot Energy Services. The two discovered the program and said they thought it was a great way to give back to the community.
"We found Variety back in April with Rob [Kozel, CEO] with Mountaineer Keystone and he got us involved and he got us hooked," Lisa Lang said. "I said 'My husband and I want to make sure every kid in Harrison County has a bike if they want it.'"
Part of the process was finding an organization which could determine the needs of the children and then custom fit them with a bike.
Enter Cornerstone Pediatric Center in Bridgeport.
The staff begins working with the children through the various therapies they offer and then determine if the child would be a good fit for, and benefit from an adaptive bike.
Once they get the approval from Variety, they bring the child back to in analyze what the they need.
"We'll bring the families down and the kids to actually fit them for a specific bike," Andrew Citerone, Co-Founder of Cornerstone Pediatrics said. "First we work with the sizes, then we see what adaptations they actually need to the bike and then the most fun part is when the kids get to pick out the color they want."
Another part of the process was finding the funding for each bike, with the cost to sponsor one adaptive bike is set at $1,800.
Variety states currently, there are 18 children from West Virginia on the waiting list for a bike and all that is needed is the funding.
Lang said the businesses in the oil and gas industry have been very supportive of the cause, with Mountaineer Keystone, for instance, pledging to sponsor one bike for every well they drill in West Virginia.
According to Variety, to date, more than half of the support for the "My Bike" Program in the state comes from the oil and gas industry.
House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, who sponsored one of the 15 bikes along with his wife Susan Miley, said the joy of the children receiving the bikes is contagious.
"It really puts in perspective what is worth worrying about and what's not worth worrying about," he said. "When you come to an event like this and see the joy that it brings to the family, it makes everything worthwhile and it just makes you want to commit even more to the program so that every disabled child in West Virginia can have the opportunity to do something as simple as ride a bike for the first time."
Lang said one other challenge is finding children to give the bikes to.
Those interested in applying for or sponsoring a bike are encouraged to visit www.varietypittsburgh.org and look under the "My Bike" Program link.