By David Kligman
SAN FRANCISCO — Riding a bicycle represents independence for children. But for the parents of 7-year-old Chandler Christen and other children with disabilities, just finding a bike can be an ordeal.
Chandler, who was born with a form of cerebral palsy and suffers occasional seizures, requires a customized bike with a larger seat and pedals to keep him secure and a handle and brake so his parents can steer him. These bicycles cost several thousand dollars.
Chandler Christen rides his new bike, courtesy of Variety Children’s Charity of Northern California. (Photo courtesy of Josh Christen.)
Earlier this year, the boy was surprised with a new three-wheeled bike designed just for him. His father, Josh Christen, remembers when it was delivered while his son was home sick with the flu.
“He’s half asleep and he sees his bike and says, ‘Wow, what’s that? Bicycle?’ recalled Christen, who lives in Woodland in Yolo County. “Before we even had a chance to look at it he was trying to climb up on the thing. He had the flu but he hopped on that thing and it was like he hadn’t been sick at all. He was just thrilled. We were all just floored.”
A San Francisco-based organization, Variety Children’s Charity of Northern California, arranged for the bicycle and paid for most of it.
Last week, the longtime organization was honored with 7×7 magazine’s favorite San Francisco charity contest. For the past five years, PG&E has sponsored the contest whose winners are chosen by online votes from 7×7 readers.
Ayesha Williamson, Variety’s executive director, described the ceremony as a little like a beauty pageant. Runner-ups were announced and then there were only two left. When the first runner-up wasn’t Variety, she realized her group had won.
PG&E’s Rob Black, left, presents a $10,000 check to the staff and board members of Variety Children’s Charity of Northern California.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said Williamson, one of two employees who work for the charity. “My board has this look of sheer and utter joy like we had just won the Little League World Series. But there was a little bit of guilt knowing there were all these really incredible organizations that didn’t win it. It was a wonderful feeling and there were mixed feelings but we were certainly honored.”
PG&E awarded Variety a $10,000 grant and $2,000 each to the six runner-up organizations.
“This is a way for PG&E to recognize those organizations that do so much for our local communities,” said Rob Black, the utility’s senior director of Community Relations.
Williamson described her organization’s beginnings in 1928 Pittsburgh after a newborn girl was abandoned in a movie theater. Pinned to her was a note from a woman who hoped that a good home could be found for her daughter. A group of show business professionals found a foster home for her and pitched in to raise her.
“They wanted her to grow up as a normal child and feel loved and never forgotten,” said Williamson, who said the girl eventually learned of her story as an older woman.
Variety established its Northern California chapter in 1947. Through it all, its mission is to step in to help when insurance agencies or others can’t or won’t.
An online vote determined the winner of 7×7′s annual contest to name San Francisco’s favorite charity.
For nearly 70 years, Variety has provided access to medical care, rehabilitation, housing assistance and community aid to tens of thousands of Northern California’s most needy children.
There are many examples of what the organization does — providing gas cards for a family traveling to the hospital while their child receives cancer treatments; paying for back-to-school supplies for a family that can’t afford it; and in Chandler’s case, funding his first bike.
“That chance to be a kid is very important to our organization,” she said.
Christen, Chandler’s father, said he’s grateful for all that Variety and Williamson have done for his son.
“I can’t say enough about that organization,” he said. “We feel like we’re a part of their family. You can never have enough people rooting for you when times get a little tough and things aren’t going your way.”
Email David Kligman at [email protected].