Danny O’Neill is a man who doesn’t recognize limitations, his own or those placed on others.
As the owner of The Roasterie, a local specialty coffee producer, O’Neill’s world is full of possibilities and one of his passions is to open that world up to others.
It’s why he rode his motorcycle to and through Alaska as a fundraiser that paid for adaptive bikes for 10 special-needs children. The adaptive bikes, which are customized to allow children with special needs to the freedom of mobility, were delivered in October through a partnership with Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City.
“You know how crazy expensive it is to have kids,” O’Neill said. “Well, think about a kid with special needs. The bikes can be like $2,500 ... and I thought, ‘I bet I can get enough people to buy maybe two bikes.’”
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To raise the money, O’Neill collected pledges from donors and rode his 2016 BMW Adventure Dual Sport from his Kansas City home to the Arctic Circle.
“That first night I did around 1,150 miles,” O’Neill said.
By the time he finished 260 gallons of gas and 47 stops later, O’Neill raised enough money — nearly $26,000 — for a lot more than two adaptive bikes. He only spent about 20 minutes at the Arctic Circle after all that effort, but sightseeing wasn’t his goal.
Those adaptive bikes — and freedom they represent for local kids with special needs — was all that mattered.
To help get the money to where it was needed, O’Neill teamed up with Deb Wiebrecht, the executive director of Variety Children’s Charity. The nonprofit, which started in Kansas City in 1934, operates a Kids on the Go program.
O’Neill’s effort helped purchase a total of 12 bikes, including two that were presented to the Blue Valley Unified School District for use in their special-needs curriculum. Each bike costs anywhere from $600 to $6,000, making them cost-prohibitive for most families, because such devices aren’t typically covered by insurance.
“Adaptive bikes are one of my favorite things to give because it gives kids more,” Wiebrecht said. “It gives them a chance to get exercise. ... Everybody needs exercise.”
Riding bikes also can motivate the children to be enthusiastic participants in their own physical therapy, turning a chore into something fun.
The bikes were presented during a surprise party just for the special-needs recipients and their families at The Roasterie. Bright red bows decorated each bike, which were loaded with other gifts as well.
“I walked in and there’s all this red — all these bikes are red — and they’re gorgeous and beautiful,” O’Neill said. “And then they saw all these bikes with their name on them. It was just unbelievable.”
While that batch of bikes has been distributed, Wiebrecht and O’Neill know there are many more children in need as the holidays approach.
“We’re all about inclusion,” Wiebrecht said. “It doesn’t matter what your ability or disability is. It doesn’t matter what you need. You’re a Variety child.”
The nonprofit always accepts donations for adaptive bikes and other items many families with special needs require. Variety also hopes to construct inclusive playgrounds at the Kansas City Zoo and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
O’Neill isn’t done helping Variety and other children’s charities either.
“We have to start with the premise that all kids are special,” he said. “And we decided that we had to focus here locally, so we chose Children’s Mercy and and Variety International.”
O’Neill and his wife, Carla, who are working to open new locations for The Roasterie, also perform a lot of philanthropy for the arts in Kansas City among other charitable endeavors. He may even plan another cross-country fundraising ride — perhaps to Miami this time time, instead of the frigid Arctic.