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Allie Benson, 2020 MLK Jr. Community Service Award Recipient

Allie Benson, 2020 MLK Jr. Community Service Award Recipient

Physical Therapist at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital provides adaptive bikes to children with special needs

As a neurodevelopmental pediatric physical therapist, Allie Benson says it has always been her passion to find ways for children with disabilities to be able to enjoy recreational experiences that typical children have. As a resident of bike-friendly St. Petersburg, Florida, she has made it her mission to provide adaptive bikes to families who have children with special needs.

An employee of Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital for the past nine years, Benson works with children with cerebral palsy and other developmental challenges and manages an intensive therapy program there. She’s seen how bikes with extra trunk support, adaptive pedals, and rear steering provide joy, comfort and independence.

In 2016, Benson’s eldest daughter, Charlie, was stillborn. The distress from this tragedy motivated Allie and her husband, John, to found a nonprofit called Charlie’s Champs to organize inclusive activities and events and provide adaptive equipment for children who cannot participate in organized sports. “It’s hard when you lose somebody, and it’s a way to keep her memory alive,” says Benson, who has a 2-year-old daughter and another on the way in April.

She raises money for the bikes, which typically cost between $1,000 and $4,500, and has recently applied for grants. So far, she’s obtained 25 bikes for children as a result of referrals and word of mouth. “We have an ongoing waitlist of 10 to 12 kids. We do the best we can to get kids bikes as soon as possible,” Benson says.

The nonprofit’s impact goes further. Two years ago, Benson started Charlie’s Closet, a free equipment exchange where people can swap walkers, standers and other items they no longer need for equipment they do need.

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