For children with disabilities, the quintessential youth experience of riding a bike can be much more difficult than a simple trip to the store. A modified bicycle or tricycle that’s adapted to their needs can cost up to $5,000, and isn’t covered by medical insurance. That’s where Lori Flavin and the nonprofit Share the Voice come in.
For almost a decade, Share the Voice has provided over 250 adapted tricycles to children with disabilities in New York and New Jersey. As one of their founding members and the current regional director of New York, Lori has helped improve the lives of countless children, while also bringing their families together to form one unified community.
What does Share the Voice do?
We fundraise money and donate adaptive tricycles to individuals with disabilities. We get applications, fundraise money, and then we’ll speak with the individual’s physical therapist or occupational therapist, their family, and their care team, and determine the best fit of a bike for them. We place the order with the manufacturer and it gets shipped to us. We try to do everything as a surprise. We’ll store the bike we get delivered until we’re ready to surprise the family. Then we usually tell a little white lie that we need a signature or we’re coming to do a re-measurement to make sure the family is home. Prior to COVID, we would try to gather community members to make it a parade down their block and surprise the family with their trike.
Describe your volunteer role with Share the Voice.
We have a New York and New Jersey chapter. I’m the regional director of New York. I oversee the New York volunteers. I help plan events. I help place orders. I plan the bike giveaways. I speak with the child’s care team to be sure all our records are up to date. Family engagement is a huge thing for us. We don’t just deliver the bike and never speak to the families again. We try to make it special. We tell all the families that now they’re part of our family, and our family continues to grow. We have picnics, galas, and fundraisers throughout the year that we send invitations to make sure they stay involved, and we can watch the individuals grow and continue to ride their bikes.
Why did you want everyone touched by your nonprofit to feel like one family?
We want people who are in the same kind of situation to have other people they can speak to. We have a private group on Facebook that we just invite recipients and therapists to, where they can talk about things like schooling, potty training, doctors, therapies, and all different things. Nobody should feel like they’re all alone, so we try to create this network where people can use each other as knowledge, so we can all move forward and everyone can be better off.
How important is it for these kids to have these adapted bicycles?
It’s all about inclusion. Every child deserves a bike. Nobody should be left out of their community because they can’t ride a bike. Riding a bike gets them out, gets them interacting with other children and other adults, and lets them see things that they’re not going to see staying at home. It gives them the exercise they need to stretch their muscles. We have a child we gave a bike to, and the mother had said to me that she took him for a walk all the time but he was always looking down because he was afraid he was going to trip and fall. She said now when I put him on the bike, when we’re riding, he’s pointing at things. She says, these are things I thought he saw everyday, but he was so busy looking down because he was afraid to fall that he never saw anything. Trees, birds, planes. It helps them just be like everybody else, see things, get involved in their community, and be like any other kid.
Have there been any particularly memorable moments from your time volunteering?
We do a lot of giveaways. We try to be creative in how we’re going to surprise the family. Around the holidays, we try to get Santa and the local fire department to come with the fire trucks, and we parade down the block with the sirens and lights going. We have Santa come and present the bike to the recipient. Those are always fan favorites. We had one year when it started to snow, so that was amazing.
What goals would you like to see Share the Voice achieve?
I would like every child who needs a bike to have one. With COVID, it’s been hard. Money coming in has slowed down. The applications have risen because these individuals haven’t been in school or haven’t been getting the therapies they so desperately need. We had an increase in applications, and the money coming in didn’t increase, because obviously it was a rough two years for everybody. My goal would be to give a bike to everyone on our waitlist.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
There’s a lot of people out there to help. I’ve learned how rewarding it is that you’re making a difference in other people’s lives. If you have a vision or a dream, follow it. Eleven years ago, I was talking to a friend in a parking lot, and I told her about this vision we had. I remember her saying that’s great, I hope you can give away a few bikes. I spoke to her recently and she said, you did it. Not only did you do it, you sustained it for ten years. Never give up. Never say “I can’t do it.” You can. Just put your mind to it and you’ll get there. It’s all about making a positive difference in someone’s life.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
We have, as individuals, so much to give. I think the world would be a much better place if we worked together.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Lori? Find local volunteer opportunities.