By Dave Crawley

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Emily Zipparo, 15, straps on her helmet like a pro, even though she and others are learning to ride for the first time.

Kids with special needs pedal their way to success at Bicycle Camp, in the Quaker Valley Middle School gymnasium.

But it’s not just about the bikes.

“We find a boost in self-confidence, a sense of independence, inclusion, not only in their family, but in their community as well,” says floor manager Manda Krimmer. “They get to do something that, they look out in the street, and all their friends get to do. They’re going to be part of that.”

Volunteers jog alongside the riders, to guard against mishaps. The one-week program is organized by a national, non-profit group called “iCan Shine.”

Quaker Valley teachers and parents raised $15,000 provide training, and enable 20 kids to attend the camp for free. A 12-year-old named Tyler is the first to venture outdoors, onto the track.

It’s his first time without training wheels.

“He can go to the park this weekend,” says special education teacher Lauren McGuirk. “Or when he’s on vacation, they can take bike tours together. The skills that he’s gained probably don’t even compare with the confidence he’s gained over the course of the week.”

And Emily can pedal with her parents and sisters, for the first time.

“Emily is thrilled,” says her mother, Julie Zipparo. “She bounds out of bed every morning. She can’t wait. She’s been wearing her helmet around the house, and ‘bike’ has been every other word.”

Emily says the next time she visits the park, “I’ll ride my bike by myself.”

er comment elicits a round of high fives.

The best part of all: When they do go home, the donated bikes and helmets will go with them.

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