By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter
It has become a job perk not found on a resume, an emotional jolt of heartwarming goodness.
Sheri McMichael, executive director of Variety – the Children’s Charity, gets tears in her eyes every time her organization presents a specialized bike to a child with special needs.
“Every single bike presentation is unique for its own reason,” McMichael said. “I don’t think there’s been a single bike presentation where I don’t get tears in my eyes, but they’re tears of joy. Because I know how much that bike is going to impact that child, both socially and physically. It just gives me goosebumps.”
Specialized bikes cost anywhere from $1,500 to $8,000 apiece. Variety, one of the Principal Charity Classic’s six Tournament Charity Partners, has presented more than 160 specialized bikes over the last seven years. Fifty of those bikes were presented in conjunction with the Principal Charity Classic.
“For 10 years Principal has supported our mission and it’s wonderful to be able to demonstrate back to them when we do bike giveaways during the Principal Charity Classic,” said Megan Grandgeorge, Variety’s director of marketing and public relations. “It’s great to let everyone know exactly where those dollars are going and what they mean.”
Seeing the generosity of others, like Principal, also brings a smile to McMichael’s face. Similar smiles break out on the faces of youngsters who are presented a specialized bike, as well as their families.
“There are a lot of things that Variety does, and we juggle a lot of balls,” McMichael said. “But I’ve said before, and I don’t apologize for this, providing specialized bikes to those families is one of my favorite things to do. Because it’s not just about the child getting the bike. It’s about the whole family.”
The specialized bikes are part of Variety’s “Kids on the Go!” program. Variety also presents traditional bikes, helmets and locks to youngsters who wouldn’t be able to have them otherwise. Variety presented more than 1,500 of these bikes in 2015.
“We work with the schools, teachers, counselors and administrators to help us identify those kids that need bikes,” McMichael said.
A third piece of the program is the Variety vans that transport at risk, underprivileged or special needs children to and from activities. Dollars raised from the Principal Charity Classic help pay for those vans.
McMichael said the specialized bike program was born after Variety received a phone call from ChildServe.
“They had a little boy who had been involved in a car accident and had spent months at University Hospitals (in Iowa City) and at ChildServe in their transitional care unit,” McMichael said. “And he was starting to get strength back in his legs by using a specialized bike in physical therapy. But once he started getting his strength back on his dominant side, he kind of got lazy and didn’t want to work so hard. So they reached out to us and asked if we’d ever consider granting the specialized bike to a child with special needs to help them with physical therapy when they left ChildServ.”
The first specialized bike was presented, in conjunction with the Principal Charity Classic, seven years ago.
The recipient of that first bike couldn’t walk on his own without the assistance of some piece of equipment. Nine months later, McMichael invited the youngster to the annual Variety Telethon in March.
“Not only did he come to the telethon, he ran to me, about the length of a football field,” McMichael said. “And it was right then and there that I said, “OK, I get this, this is what the program is all about.”
Variety now consults with physical therapists across the state to identify special needs children who would get great benefit from a specialized bike.
“I have a binder, about six inches thick, and it’s full of applications,” McMichael said.
Thanks to the generosity of many, including the Principal Charity Classic, specialized bikes are finding a home. Since Principal became the tournament’s title sponsor nine years ago, more than $7.7 million has been raised for charity. McMichael said that Variety and the other designated charities, along with the Birdies for Charity program, have identical missions.
“All the money is being put back in the community,” McMichael said. “And those dollars are being utilized to make this the best place for kids, and to make kids’ lives better.”