Alice Nominees: Ann Donaca-Sullivan and Patty Verzani

This article is the sixteenth in a series profiling the varied and amazing nominees for the 2008 Alice B. Toeclips Awards, which will be presented to five winners at the Alice Awards & Auction tomorrow night (sorry, we’re sold out!). We won’t have time to interview everyone, so be sure to check out their descriptions online.

Two years ago, Ann Donaca-Sullivan and Patty Verzani, both mothers of children with special needs, watched anxiously as their youngsters struggled to learn how to ride a bike.
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When they read about a national organization that helps kids with disabilities become independent riders, Ann and Patty knew instantly they had to bring the program to Portland. About one in 12 children have some form of disability and the percentage of children in the Pacific Northwest affected by autism is the highest in the nation. Fueled by an impassioned desire to see kids of all abilities experience the joy of cycling, they knew that support would come for such a worthy program, and it did.

More than 50 families from as far away as Washington, D.C., participated the first year; community support filled in funding gaps, and camp ended with a waiting list of a dozen children. Adding a third camp organizer in 2007, the program doubled capacity, created a website and garnered broader community support.

Now in its third year, Bike First!, the Portland affiliate of Lose the Training Wheels, will change the lives of more than 100 children and their families this summer. In addition to the two week-long intensive camps for kids with special needs, Bike First! will also conduct a one-day fund-raiser for typically developing children that uses the “Lose the Training Wheels” specialized training and equipment.

“We want all children, regardless of circumstance, to ride bikes together and enjoy the freedom, social connectedness and health benefits of biking,” says co-founder Donaca-Sullivan.

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