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Bikes puts kids on move

Tessa Carbungco, 4, of Cabot gets a helping hand from her mother, Amy, as she rides her new bike given by Variety the Children's Charity at the XTO Energy Office.
Adaptive vehicles overcome ailments

MARSHALL TWP, Allegheny County — Four-year-old Tessa Carbungco used to have to stay home when her two older brothers would ride bicycles near their home in Cabot.

After Tuesday, that will no longer be the case.

“Now she won't feel left out,” her father Eddie Carbungco said about his daughter receiving a new bike.

Tessa was one of five children presented with an adaptive bike by Variety the Children's Charity at an event at XTO Energy's offices.

The bikes, which cost $1,800 each, were sponsored by XTO.

Also receiving bikes were Nolan Holtz, 17, of Slippery Rock; Angela Caringola, 13, of Butler; Bradley Jerome, 6, of Glassport; and Kinsley Wilcox, 6, of Monroeville.

The bikes are customized for each child and include features such as a rear handlebar so parents can help steer, a stationary brake and a stand to turn it into a stationary bike.

Tessa has spina bifida, a birth defect in which infants are born with a split spine.

The bike is considered a tool in her physical therapy. It has elastic cords that help her pedal.

“Eventually we want to get her legs strong enough to ride and pedal with just her legs,” her mother Amy Carbungco said.

But being able to join her brothers, ages 5 and 7, is important

“She is so independent and outgoing, she wants to do everything her brothers do,” she said.

Tessa was all smiles showing off her bike, which came with a new helmet and a Teddy bear.

She used to use a special bike with hand pedals, but outgrew it.

“I needed a bigger bike, so this is my bigger bike,” she said, adding that she got to pick the color of the frame: raspberry pink.

Nolan, who goes to Slippery Rock High School, has bilateral club feet, which made past attempts at riding a bike difficult.

His father George Holtz said that when Nolan was adopted from China, he could only walk on his toes, but has improved since then.

“It was surprising,” Nolan said about being given the bike.

Nolan also will get to join his siblings now that he has a bike, Holtz said. They have nine adopted children at home, he said.

Angela Caringola could not attend the event, but her parents were there to accept a bike. Angela has autism and cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder, her mother Kim Caringola said.

She has tried to ride a traditional bike in the past, but had difficulty staying upright.

They planned to surprise her at school with the bike.

“She's going to be thrilled. She'll be high fiving everybody,” Caringola said.

Variety, based in Wexford, started out serving 10 counties, including Butler, and now serves 50, CEO Charlie LaVallee said.

“What we're doing is giving the kids an opportunity to discover their possibilities,” he told a group of XTO employees and guests.

Mike Johnson, vice president of XTO's Appalachian region, said the company is pleased to contribute to the program.

Learning to ride a bike is something that most people have fond memories of, he said.

“We're lucky today. We're going to kick-start these children on some of those special memories,” he said.

Variety wants to get the word out about its bikes because it has 100 that are sponsored, but need recipients, LaVallee said.

Students at University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health looked at demographics for Butler County and estimated that there are 700 children in the county who would qualify.

They were looking for families who earn no more than four times poverty income level and who have a child with autism, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Other children do qualify for adaptive bikes, so their estimate is a conservative figure, he said.

The organization also has two programs it started a little more than one year ago: “My Stroller” and “My Voice.” Those provide qualifying families with special folding wheelchair strollers and communications devices for non-verbal children, respectively.

Bradley Jerome and Kinsley Wilcox were both unable to attend for medical reasons, but they will get their bikes soon.

The two children present got to ride their bikes through the XTO offices as they were cheered on by the crowd.

For information about Variety the Children's Charity, visit www.varietypittsburgh.org.

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