Local disabled youth presented with special adaptive equipment

MILL CREEK — Three Lewistown youth were among Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11 students with disabilities to be presented with devices that will help improve their daily lives during the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit’s 46th Annual Convention of School Directors at the Huntingdon County Career & Technology Center Wednesday.

Hanna Ripple, 15, a Mifflin County Junior High School student, Marckis Mountz, 4, and Madalyn Willliams, 4, both involved in Tuscarora Intermediate Unit 11’s Early Intervention program, each received a “My Voice” device — an item that children who are nonverbal or partially verbal learn to use to communicate with others.

The Lewistown youth were among 11 students within TIU 11 to receive a combined $15,000 in adaptive equipment from Variety, a Pittsburgh-based children’s charity that partnered with the TIU .

Since November 2012, Variety has helped provide more than 2,500 adaptive bikes, adaptive strollers and communication devices to eligible kids throughout its 54-county service area in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Also receiving equipment Wednesday were six Huntingdon County youth and two Fulton County youth.

During the convention, Charles LaValle, CEO of Variety, said the equipment has been lifechanging for children who have received it.

He said parents of child recipients have expressed extreme gratitude for helping to make their child more mobile, or to help them understand what their child wanted.

“This is what your IU is making happen. The kids are getting life-changing equipment,” he said.

He also discussed instances in which parents communicated verbally with their children for the first time, thanks to the “My Voice” devices.

One recipient’s parent, Anita Young, of Huntingdon, spoke about how her child has benefited since her 4-year-old, Mia, has had the device.

She described a day when the family was sitting at the dinner table and Mia spelled her name using the device.

“We had no idea she knew how to spell her name. We were just amazed. That was it, we said we need to have this.”

Young said the family later learned she could use it to communicate with Amazon’s Alexa so she could select music.

She has also used the machine to learn to spell and memorize, Young said.

“We take it everywhere. She gets frustrated, she whips it out and tells us what’s going on. She requests things. She’s building phrases. We see her cognitive ability so we’re not worried that she’s behind.”

Young said in the few months since Mia received the device, she has even learned to verbalize sounds.

Young worked through IU8 in Altoona. to receive Mia’s device.

“The IU has been absolutely wonderful. Great educators, great partners, willing to listen to our insight. We are incredibly grateful. And we’re grateful to the Variety charity for giving us this chance.”

Shawn Kovak, executive director of TIU 11 said he is proud to be able to bring such equipment to TIU students.

“Nothing gives me more joy than to have the opportunity to bring our team together to make these types of activities and these types of opportunities available for the students of IU 11. It’s fantastic,” he said. “Be proud of your administrators and your teachers in these buildings. We’re doing a wonderful job here.”

Variety, the Children’s Charity is seeking youth who have a documented mental, physical or sensory disability who are seeking equipment to improve their quality of life.

To be eligible, the family must reside within the charity’s 56-county service area, the child must be between ages 3 and 21, and the family must fall under certain income requirements. The applicant must also demonstrate medical need for the device.

Applications are available at www.varietypittsburgh.org. Information can also be made available by calling (724) 933-0460.

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