Hey everybody! Is there anything better than the joy on a little boy’s face when he gets his first bike?
Well, imagine if that little boy was differently-abled and never thought he’d get to ride a bike.
“That big old smile on his face when he learned to ride that bike, it’s what I live for,” says mom Brandy Cruz.
Brandy’s son 6-year-old Nicholas Cruz is living with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy. It's a birth defect caused by some sort of brain injury that impacts motor function.
The impacts are wide ranging, from severe physical limitations to developmental delays. In Nicholas’ case, he’s growing slower than most kids his age, has trouble with his extremities and walks with a mild limp.
Cognitively though, Brandy says, he’s smart as a whip and typically doesn’t realize he’s different from his peers.
“When the other kids start to run around and play he feels left behind and he realizes it then, but it doesn’t stop him,” she says. “It pushes him harder.”
Three years ago, getting around got a lot easier when Nicholas got his first AMBUCS AmTryke. It’s a specialty bicycle or tricycle that’s adapted according to an individual’s needs.
“It’s incredible,” says AMBUCS National President-elect Kevin Sheehan. “They can now do things as a family. Nicholas is getting stronger> He’s going from a hand and foot-pedaled bike to a foot bike.”
In the nearly 20 years that Kevin has been involved with Savannah AMBUCS the agency has given away more than 400 of these specialty bikes. The 17 different models can be adapted for children as young as 2 all the way to adults up to 6’4” and 300 pounds.
Bikes can be powered via hands, a hand and foot combination or by feet alone and are customized depending on a person’s balance and abilities. There are hand adaptions, leg adaptions, seat adaptions and so much more. But these special mobility bikes are not cheap. The average cost for an AmTryke is $800.
That’s where fundraisers like Bowlapalooza come in. Over the next four months I’m joining a group of roughly two dozen local “celebrity bowlers” to raise funds for AmTrykes and the other wonderful things AMBUCS does in our community.
For the last 53 years Savannah AMBUCS has sponsored an adult special-needs bowling league. Every Saturday from September through May, nearly 100 special-needs adults meet for an afternoon of bowling, fellowship and fun. Four of the bowlers have been part of the league more than 40 years.
“They have a blast,” says Kevin. “They love it. We celebrate birthdays, we have a tournament, it’s big time.”
Savannah AMBUCS also provides scholarships for Occupational, Physical & Speech Therapy students at Armstrong State University and for local students in those programs at state colleges around Georgia and at the University of South Carolina. Four students were awarded scholarships this past year.
But, back to Bowlapalooza. It is Savannah AMBUCS’ largest fundraiser. This year Kevin hopes to raise $80,000 and the auction at this year’s kick-off event will be pretty awesome. It’s at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Savannah Golf Club. Tickets are $40.
So far, my contributions include 2 Golden Tickets from The Stage on Bay good for VIP Admission to all the venue’s concerts and shows for the next 12 months, a two-night stay and dinner for two at B Historic Savannah Hotel, a Blue Tooth Pet Monitoring Camera and Invisible Fence from TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories and swag from Ghost Coast Distillery and Old Savannah Tours.
There are tons of other auction items, too, like spa and golf packages, destination getaways, a new AC unit and installation, art by Panhandle Slim and a five-course dinner for two at The Collins Quarter. My friend Ashley Borders of “Southern Charme Savannah” fame is donating jewelry from beloved local designer Zia and a closet makeover/styling session.
There are great fundraisers, too! I’m planning an Art Bash Wine & Painting Party on Aug. 11 and am still working on the details for a bar crawl with Ghost Coast Distillery & Service Brewing and a cookout at Coach’s Corner.
Point is, all of these 20 plus bowlers believe in AMBUCS and its AmTryke program enough to put in some work.
“What we do is life changing,” says Kevin. “People can see the tangible aspect of that. When you get the privilege of getting to be a part of that it’s moving, every time.”
One more awesome detail: Nicholas gets a new AmTryke Wednesday at the kick-off!
“Our agreement with the families is if they outgrow the bike, they give us the bike so we can re-gift it and we give them the next size up,” says Kevin. “It gives them physical and emotional strength. It makes them feel normal. (Nicholas) knows there’s a difference there, he knows he’s getting stronger.”
Brandy and the Cruz family can’t wait.
“He is so excited!” she says. “It helps his muscles and his legs, being able to push himself and be independent. It’s huge that he can follow his brother when (9-year-old Alex) is riding his bike and take trips around the neighborhood.”
But, she says the boost to her son’s confidence is the best gift of all.
“He’s a very independent little boy and you try to help him, but he says ‘No, mama, I got it. I can do this’” she says, “This AmTryke helped make that possible.”
Tune into WSAV’s The Bridge Tuesday to meet Nicholas and learn more. To donate or help any of the Bowlapalooza “Celebrity Bowlers” visit SavannahAMBUCS.com or WSAV.com and search “AMBUCS Bowlapalooza.”
Reneé LaSalle is co-host of “The Bridge,” which airs at 11 a.m. Monday-Friday on WSAV. Contact her on Facebook by searching Reneé LaSalle WSAV, on Twitter @WSAVReneeL or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.