"My Bike" program gives adaptive bikes to kids with disabilities

Katherine Ranzenberger

Carson, Carter and Cameron Hollabaugh hadn’t ridden bikes before last year. The brothers, each autistic, had asked their mother, Lisa Hollabaugh, to add bikes to the list for Santa.

However, Variety, a children’s charity based in Pittsburgh, was able to make that wish come true before Christmas.

The 12-year-old twins Carson and Cameron and their 9-year-old brother Carter received bikes in September through the charity’s My Bike program.

“The bikes just provide so much for them,” Hollabaugh said. “It’s a chance for freedom. Now they can ride their bikes and do the things typical kids do.”

The program: My Bike gives three-wheeled bicycles to children with disabilities around Pennsylvania. Variety calls them bikes because they want kids to feel just like their peers, according to the charity’s CEO Charlie LaVallee.

Carson Hollabaugh, 12, left, and Cameron Hollabaugh, 12, right, ride their bikes for the first time this season while youngest brother Carter Hollabaugh, 8, back, gets help strapping in to his bike by Therapy Staff Support (TSS) Ethan Burkett, at the boys' home in Dover, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. The Hollabough boys, all diagnosed with autism, received the bikes from "My Bike" program, which is part of, Variety the Children's Charity, based in Wexford, last September. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Each Rifton bike is adaptive, allowing the kids to wear a seat belt and have their feet strapped into the pedals. The bikes are customizable to match the needs of each child receiving one.

Variety’s program started by focusing on 10 counties near Pittsburgh, LaVallee said. Now, 50 counties across Pennsylvania and into West Virginia have kids benefiting from the My Bike program.

“It gives them a feeling of independence,” LaVallee said. “I think what the bikes provide the kids is the chance to discover the possibilities.”

Hollabaugh said the process of applying for the bike was extremely easy for her. The single mother said she was guided through the whole process, and the people at Variety were helpful and communicated well.

Therapy Staff Support (TSS) Ethan Burkett, left, and Lisa Hollabaugh, back right, look on as Hollabaugh's son Carson Hollabaugh, 12, rides his bike at their Dover home Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Carson, along with brothers Cameron, 12 and Carter, 8, having been diagnosed with autism, received the bikes from "My Bike" grant program last September. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Everybody at the Variety charity, they were and are so kind,” Hollabaugh said. “I just can’t tell you how wonderful they are. It wasn’t a headache. It was different from what I’m used to from other grant processes.”

On the bikes: The boys have enjoyed their time on the new bikes. Each said they loved racing their brothers and are excited to get back on them.

Cameron did crash his bike last year and was a little apprehensive of jumping right back on this year. But Hollabaugh said it’s a process many people go through with autistic children.

“You have to work through that fear,” she said. “He had so much fun on it last year. Every day I saw improvement. By the end of the season last year, he was able to make it up an incline. I’m excited to see what he can do this year.”

Each bike costs about $1,800. The charity has given away nearly $2 million worth of bikes since November 2012, LaVallee said.

“We live on a pendulum of too many bikes and then too many kids,” he said. “Right now we have 100 bikes already paid for that we need to give away.”

LaVallee said the group is working to give those bikes to children across the state. Applications for bikes can be found online at varietypittsburgh.org.

Qualifying children are between the ages of 4 and 21 with a doctor-diagnosed physical, mental or sensory disability.

There are income limits, but they are based on how many people are in the household, LaVallee said. That income limit is very high compared to other charities, he added. Most families that have children with disabilities don’t have extra income to spend on a bike or other activities.

From left, Lisa Hollabaugh, helps to secure the feet of her son Cameron Hollabaugh, 12, while younger son Carter Hollabaugh, 8, is assisted by Therapy Staff Support (TSS) Ethan Burkett, as the boys ride their bikes at their Dover home Tuesday, March 8, 2016. The boys, along with brother Carson Hollabaugh (not pictured), having been diagnosed with autism, received the bikes from "My Bike" grant program last September. Dawn J. Sagert photo

For more information on the My Bike program, visit varietypittsburgh.org/mybike.