LOGAN — When it comes to serving families of children with special needs, bikers like Mike Tuccelli mean serious business.
An American Sign Language instructor at the University of Florida, Tuccelli has a message to share, and he's taking it on the road in Utah.
"Being deaf myself, I know how important it is for children who are deaf to be able to communicate with their families," he said. "I'm trying to spread the word that deaf children do not have to be isolated. They do not have to be frustrated. They can have a normal, happy life."
Spearheading the eighth annual Alaska Motorcycle Charity Run, a monthlong, cross-country benefit ride, Tuccelli is taking a 10,000-mile road trip this summer to raise money for Utah State University's SKI-HI (pronounced sky high) Institute, a Logan-based organization that supports families of children with sensory disabilities in all 50 states and around the world.
En route to Alaska from St. Augustine, Fla., Tuccelli met up with a group of Cache Valley motorcyclists Sunday at Bear Lake for a "mini-run" through Logan.
"This is the fourth summer in a row that Mike and his group have ridden for SKI-HI," said organization director Elizabeth Dennison, "and it's growing every year. Last year, they raised about $7,000 for our program, and these funds are crucial to SKI-HI because we don't receive university funding. Because so much of the grant money we've relied on for the past 40 years is no longer available, we're hoping in the near future to find some corporate sponsors who can help us secure some permanent funding. In the meantime, we're committed to what we do, and we're doing what we can to stay afloat. Fundraisers like this take time to build, but everything helps."
Recognized internationally for its contributions to families with young children who are deaf and/or blind, SKI-HI has provided educational services, adaptive equipment and home-based early intervention programs for more than 150,000 children around the world, many of them from countries without local therapeutic resources.
During the next five weeks, two educators from Poland are participating in an intensive training program that will enable them to bolster community services near Warsaw.
"We have no proper therapy in place at home," said Kataryna Litwinska, who lives in Gdansk, Poland. "Your programs are so much more developed and systematic than ours, and we want to take what we learn back to our own schools."
"I became interested in helping children with low vision," she said, "because my son had a premature birth and is blind. Eight years ago, the corrective surgeries he needed weren't available in Poland, so we went to Boston. When I returned to my home, I saw other children who needed help, and I knew how to do it. But there weren't many others who could. We need to train more teachers because without early intervention, it can be too late."
Along with its ongoing work in the U.S. and Poland, SKI-HI has been providing services in South Africa for the past two years, and Dennison is traveling to Jordan in January 2010, where the group's instruction manuals have already been translated into Arabic. The SKI-HI Institute has also implemented five statewide programs specifically for disabled children and their families in Utah.
More information about the SKI-HI Institute and the Alaska Motorcycle Charity Run is available online at www.SKIHI.org.
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