Denver Mill Levy Helps Kids with Disabilities Get Moving
RMHS Denver Mill Levy Program Buys Bicycles to Support Clients’ Needs
Preciosa Ortiz rides around her neighborhood park on her new Rifton Adaptive Trike provided by the Rocky Mountain Human Services Mill Levy Program.
Fifteen-year-old Preciosa Ortiz and 3-year-old Hiro Mowrer are two kids growing up in Denver with something in common — they both received bikes through the Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) Mill Levy Program in May.
After years of physical therapy, they can now cruise their bikes alongside their siblings. Both families work with RMHS Service Coordinator Abby Grinstead in the Family Support Program, which provides support and services to families who are caring for family members ages 3 to 17 with developmental delays or disabilities. Abby has watched Preciosa and Hiro successfully develop the skills that allow them to ride their bikes today.
Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities can request funding to meet their individual needs through the RMHS Mill Levy Client Assistance Program. Funds for the program come from Denver property tax revenue dedicated to supporting Denver residents with I/DD.
Preciosa was born premature at 25 weeks. She began her life on a ventilator and was small enough to fit in her mother Rebecca’s hand, weighing a little over 1 pound, 9 ounces.
“We were told she would never walk or talk,” Rebecca said.
She spent four months in the neonatal intensive care unit, and when she came home, the real work began. She started with therapy at Children’s Hospital, and at 2 years old, she was referred to RMHS. Preciosa was beginning to walk around that time, but balancing was difficult. She didn’t enjoy walking, so Rebecca wanted to find ways she could exercise without feeling forced.
Her younger brother, Jovanni, saw families biking together and always dreamed his sister could get outside and ride bikes with him. In elementary school, she tried a bike with training wheels, but it was too wobbly. So she got a tricycle and she loved it.
When Preciosa grew out of tricycles, Rebecca didn’t know what to do. Preciosa stopped exercising as much, because she no longer had a bike to ride. Her physical therapist recommended purchasing a special tricycle, a Rifton Adaptive Trike, but at more than $1,000, they couldn’t afford it.
Three years ago, before the Mill Levy Client Assistance Program was established, Rebecca started searching for funding for the trike. She asked two different charities and never heard anything back. But this year, the Client Assistance Program was ready to fill their need.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with them for four years,” Abby said. “Every year the bike has been something we’ve talked about.”
Abby submitted the Client Assistance request for the bike, and it was approved immediately.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was in tears,” Rebecca said.
Preciosa picked out every aspect – the pink color, the handlebars – and within a month, a huge box on a semi-truck arrived at their house and was lowered onto their driveway. They opened it up to find a bright pink, ready-to-ride Rifton Adaptive Trike.
Now, she and Jovanni go biking five days a week at a local park in their neighborhood. Preciosa is at her quinceañera age and has a lot to be proud of, Rebecca said. She made it to high school on time, she’s on the honor roll with a 3.8 GPA, and she’s riding a bike every day with her brother.
Hiro was referred to RMHS right when he was born, because he is missing his corpus collosum, a band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right sides of the brain. This condition was accompanied with congenital hydrocephalus, a build-up of excess fluid in the brain, which causes pressure that can result in mental and physical problems. Both conditions are rare and make it more difficult for him to balance.
Despite his rough start, Hiro is a success story. He’s capable of riding a bike just like any other 3-year-old. However, he didn’t have a bike he was willing to ride. Hiro wanted one like his 5-year-old brother’s.
“He was always wanting to ride Oliver’s bike,” his mother, Emily, said.
Emily tried to get Hiro to ride other bikes, but they were smaller and didn’t look like Oliver’s. Emily is a teacher, and during her search for the right bike, her work hours were cut, making it difficult to afford another bike.
“They needed a bike would make Hiro feel like he was right there with his brother,” Abby said.
When Abby told Emily that Emily could access Mill Levy Client Assistance funding to buy a bike for Hiro, Emily went to work researching and finally found the right bike online. Within three weeks of requesting funding, the bike was delivered to RMHS.
RMHS Facilities Assistant Jon Danley put the bike together and took it to a shop for a tune-up. When the family picked up the bike in May, it was ready to use. It’s the first bike Hiro has been willing to cruise on with his brother.
“He’s very motivated to get on his bicycle,” Emily said with a laugh.
Hiro’s bicycle encourages him to play as much as he can. His mobility is on par with other children his age, but without the therapies he received early in life, he might not be where he is today, Abby said.
“Here we are in this moment – he can just be a kid,” Abby said.