PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A local charity is making a profound difference in the lives of local families. They're giving children a voice and giving the whole family hope.
Through advances in technology, some kids are getting a voice for the first time, and it's all thanks to the generosity of Variety the Children's Charity.
Variety is known for bringing smiles to children around the region by giving away adaptive bikes to children with disabilities, but recently, they started helping some of the same kids and more be able to speak using an iPad that has a special voice program.
This week, Variety gave away 10 more communication devices to kids in Westmoreland County. They've already given away more than 300 since they started the "My Voice" program three years ago.
Tyler Winfield got his special iPad eight weeks ago. He is autistic and speaks like a 1-year-old, but understands like the 5-year-old he is.
When asked how he is feeling, he touches some squares on his iPad and the device speaks the word, "happy." Tyler was also asked what his favorite food is and after a few seconds of touching the iPad, it spoke, "hot dog." When asked what he likes to do at home, he made the iPad say, "I play Minecraft."
Tyler's mom, Jen, says the device has been an incredible gift to their family.
"He's so much happier -- not as many meltdowns anymore because we don't have to guess anymore," she says.
She adds that before the device, Tyler would often play alone, but now he asks his sisters, Ariel and Sienna, to play with him.
Sienna says, "We didn't understand him whenever he didn't have (the iPad), but now we can understand him."
And Ariel says, "I am very thankful because he's my only brother, and I hate seeing him upset."
Many children use similar devices at therapy and school, but at $1,200 for the iPad, program, case and Apple Cares, it's too expensive for most families.
That upset Variety's CEO Charlie LaVallee. He told the group of families there to get the new iPad, the kids "can talk to their teachers and classmates but not mom, dad, grandpa, sister. It didn't make sense to me. Communication is what makes life life."
Variety raises money for iPads from groups like the United Steelworkers. USW President Leo Gerard encouraged his union to donate $30,000 for devices, including Tyler's.
"Just imagine if you couldn't speak. You can hear; you can process; you know everything, but you can't get it out. So this really struck a nerve with us, and we are going to continue to try to help," Gerard said.
Variety the Children's Charity was founded in Pittsburgh in 1927 and now has offices in 13 countries and has raised more than $2 billion to help children in need throughout the world.
If you want a device, contact Variety at https://www.varietypittsburgh.org/.
And go to Kidsburgh.org for resources on all kinds of great things in our community for kids and families.
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