Charity presents bikes to children

MORGANTOWN — Barrett Mullins was biker-cool Monday afternoon, in Evansdale.

You know: When you’re behind the handlebars and you don’t want to give away too much.

When the slightest of grins and barely perceptible nod of the helmet will suffice.

Barrett, an 8-year-old from Preston County, stone-nailed that look as he test-drove his new mobility machine on the gray day.

There was even a touch of rock ‘n’ roll to the proceedings, as Barrett and his buddies actually rode indoors, at WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center.

Yep, indoors.

The facility transformed its stately wood and tile floors into a bike track for the afternoon, in order to accommodate all those wheels.

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“Mobility” was the watchword.

Because of certain medical issues, a traditional bicycle doesn’t work well for Barrett.

But a specially outfitted three-wheeler from Variety, a nonprofit children’s charity based in Pittsburgh, isn’t.

Variety presented the rides to Barrett and 25 other buddies in a brief program at the center. There were 46 recipients in all for the afternoon.

Others were allowed adaptive strollers and communication devices, though which they can express basic needs with a touch keyboard and electronic voice.

The offerings are given free to qualifying families across Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Variety CEO Charlie La-Vallee boiled it down.

Variety and its partners and benefactors, he said, do extraordinary work — so its recipients can feel ordinary.

“Do you remember your first bike?” he asked. “What color was it? Who were your friends who rode with you? These kids here today want those same memories.”

Too often, he said, families with children in medical circumstances turn those children into spectators because of logistics or a lack of technology.

A doting grandmother can’t manage a wheelchair on an incline. A little brother on a walker can only watch while his big brother crosses the finish line.

The communication devices also open new vistas, he said.

“Imagine your child being able to tell you he’s sick or he’s hungry. Or that he’s being bullied at school.”

However, the message that may have resonated Monday came via a delivery system with three wheels, sophisticated brakes and host of safety harnesses.

The signature of any Variety event is the inaugural cruise — two laps around a meeting hall in the university alumni center, in this case.

Macey Rollyson and Hannah Underwood, best friends from a middle school in Harrison County, were giggling with anticipation as they took their place in the joyful parade.

“Where’s Macey and Hannah?” LaVallee called through a microphone. “We gotta get ‘em next to one another.”

When the three-wheeled assemblage moved out, Barrett gave that little nod and a thumb’s up — which was quite cool.

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