Shown are Linkin Mitchell and his mother Ashley Nelson, as well as Natalie Grimes, her grandmother Sandy Shatley and mother Kayla Shatley during a brief program Friday at the Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 administrative offices in Smethport. Variety, the Children's Charity, has partnered with IU9 in promoting the "My Bike” and other programs.

SMETHPORT — Variety, the Children's Charity, has partnered with Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 in promoting the "My Bike” and other programs, experiences and equipment for eligible children with disabilities so they can live life to the fullest.

During a brief program Friday at the IU9 administrative offices in Smethport, Shayna MacCleary, programs and special events manager for Variety, and Randy Prunty, business development and marketing manager for Blackburn's, a Tarentum-based company, presented customized and American-made Rifton adaptive bicycles and accessories to Natalie Grimes and Linkin Mitchell of Port Allegany. Relatives of the youngsters attended the event, in addition to IU9 staff and Gary Buchsen, superintendent of the Port Allegany School District.

In his opening remarks, IU9 Executive Director Don Wismar said the educational agency that serves the 14 school districts in McKean, Cameron, Elk and Potter counties is "excited" to promote Variety’s program for children in North Central Pennsylvania.

“The opportunities that Variety provides align so well with the work and mission of  SHIU," Wismar said. “Providing supports and services to children with disabilities and their families in our region is an integral part of our organization. The SHIU is committed to children with disabilities, and it is our pleasure to be part of this day to provide freedom and joy through the bikes, as well as strive to identify even more children for bikes in our community.”

Wismar then introduced MacCleary, who echoed the IU9's excitement about this partnership.

"From its beginnings in Pittsburgh in 2012, the 'My Bike' program has expanded to 54 counties throughout Pennsylvania and 10 in West Virginia," she said.

In her comments about the "My Bike" program, MacCleary said it overcame several barriers to get to its present status. One major hurdle was starting out on a small scale and progressing to the more than $2 million in funding for bikes.

“Much of this expansion has been due to learning from families who tell us about their children being left out of typical childhood experiences,” MacCleary said.

She said that making the public aware of Variety's "My Bike," "My Stroller" and "My Voice" programs are part of her job.

Prunty explained the safe and proper method to operate these adaptive bikes that are self-propelled and guided by an adult with the use of a steering rod for turning. By using the unit that allows the rear wheels to be elevated, the child can use the stationary bike for physical therapy, he said. The bike's specialized design can be adapted to meet the children's needs as they grow older and larger, Prunty said.

Following the demonstration, the parents, in an effort to become accustomed to steering the bikes, pushed their children around the IU9 building for several laps.

MacCleary then led the children and their parents in the "My Bike" pledge.

Eligibility for an adaptive bike through "My Bike," which serves children and youth between the ages of 4 to 21 who have a documented disability and reside within Variety's 50-county service area, is also based on meeting income guidelines and other requirements. An application may be obtained or by calling the Variety office at (724) 933-0460.

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