LORETTO — Twelve-year-old Joshua Spinelli could not wait to wake up on Tuesday and take a spin in his brand-new bicycle.
"He woke up saying, 'My bike, my bike,'" said his mother, Jennifer, of Berlin.
Spinelli, who was born with cerebral palsy and cardiac issues, didn't have the chance to ride bicycles with his four younger brothers until receiving a special adaptive bike through Pittsburgh-based charity Variety during a special presentation at St. Francis University on Tuesday.
The presentation – which provided 18 local children with disabilities with adaptive bikes, strollers and communication devices – kicked off a tour where 150 pieces of equipment will be distributed to children across the charity's 50-county coverage area in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
In Cambria and Somerset counties, Variety partnered with the university, AFSCME District 83 and the Mainline Area Special Needs Advocacy Group to identify children who would benefit from the devices.
Jennifer Spinelli said Variety representatives worked with her to complete the necessary application process and fitted Joshua for his very own blue bicycle, which the family wouldn't have been able to afford on its own. She said the bicycle will give her son "a little sense of normalcy," and allow all five of her boys to learn to ride bikes together.
As Joshua Spinelli's father, Ivan, steered his bike around the gym, the boy showed his excitement by giving his mom a big grin and a thumbs-up.
"Getting this bike is a huge, huge deal for us," Jennifer Spinelli said. "We're just ecstatic."
Mickey Sgro, is director of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) District 83. Sgro created a trust for the Variety charity two years ago and, through private donations, has raised more than $23,000 to put toward the mobility and communication devices for local children.
On Tuesday, he presented a check for $10,000 to Variety CEO Charles LaVallee.
Sgro said Variety is a charity that allows its donors to see how their money is being used.
"People, once they see it, they fall in love with the program," he said. "These kids just want a chance and we just want to allow them the opportunity to spread their wings. This is their freedom."
Each bicycle includes a stationary brake to keep the bike in place while the child gets on and off, foot straps, a harness and rear handle for parents to use for steering. The strollers are made to be more practical than wheelchairs and can be folded up.
Variety's communication devices use an iPad to allow non-verbal children to interact with family and friends. Angela March of Johnstown said her son, Zion, already has a communications device and received a bike on Tuesday.
"Now he can fit in with the rest of the kids," she said.
Anne-Marie Norris of Cresson was one of three local mothers who formed the Mainline Area Special Needs Advocacy Group for parents and caretakers of those with special needs. In rural areas, Norris said, children with special needs can become isolated, along with the entire family.
Norris, whose son has autism, said the group has been meeting monthly since last year to connect those parents and caregivers with health-care providers and charities such as Variety. Seeing Tuesday's event come to fruition validated the group's role in the community, she said.
"We never thought it would grow this big," she said.
LaVallee told several stories of children who have received bicycles, strollers or communication devices and are now able to participate in everyday activities. He showed a photo of one boy whose father decorated his bicycle as the Batmobile for Halloween and another who rode his bike in a Labor Day parade, telling his parents, "I want to show my ability to the world."
"The little things are the big things," he said. "This is really an exciting day. We are really pumped up about it."