The gift of mo­bil­ity

City em­ploy­ees mod­ify toy cars for dis­abled kids

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

Har­nessed into a mod­i­fied Fisher-Price Power Wheels car, Ben­nett An­der­son pressed down on a gi­ant red but­ton mounted to the steer­ing wheel.

As the car lurched for­ward, the 2-year-old flashed a big smile and waved his arms in ex­cite­ment, elic­it­ing cheers from a crowd of vol­un­teers who helped mod­ify 10 bat­tery­op­er­ated cars for Ben­nett and other chil­dren with mo­bil­ity is­sues.

“He’s an in­quis­i­tive guy and likes to be in the thick of things with ev­ery­one,” his mother, Brit­tany, ex­plained, adding that Ben­nett has cere­bral palsy and has weak mus­cles on his left side. “Hope­fully, this will al­low him the op­por­tu­nity to keep up with his brother and friends.”

Ben­nett and sev­eral other lo­cal kids re­ceived their mod­i­fied cars last Fri­day af­ter­noon at the city of Ne­wark’s main­te­nance yard, the re­sult of an af­ter­noon of vol­un­teer­ing and team build­ing by city em­ploy­ees.

City hall was closed for a half a day to al­low em­ploy­ees to par­tic­i­pate, and nearly 80 took part in the project.

Act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man planned the project as a way to build team­work and bring a “fam­ily feel” to the work­place in light of a re­cent sur­vey that found low morale among some city em­ploy­ees.

“It was pretty in­spir­ing,” Cole­man said. “It’s a good cause help­ing fam­i­lies in the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

De­van Hardin, hu­man re­sources man­ager, said em­ploy­ees held a crock­pot cook-off and a 50-50 raf­fle to raise the $2,000 needed to buy the cars and other sup­plies.

“Peo­ple feel like they’re part of some­thing re­ally big,” Hardin said. “Hon­estly, I was try­ing not to cry. It was very emo­tional, in a pos­i­tive way, to see the look on the kids’ faces.”

The city em­ploy­ees were as­sisted by stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Delaware’s As­sis­tive Med­i­cal Tech­nol­ogy Club. Forty mem­bers strong, the club meets once a week to mod­ify cars and other de­vices for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties.

The cars can be mod­i­fied in dif­fer­ent ways, de­pend­ing on the needs of the child, club pres­i­dent Erica Davis said. Some get but­tons so the child can use his or her hand, rather than feet, to make the car go for­ward. Oth­ers get safety har­nesses or struc­tures made from PVC pipe to give the child ex­tra sup­port. Foam pool noo­dles are used to make sup­port bars and head rests softer.

The stu­dents also re­wire the elec­tron­ics to con­trol the cars’ speed.

The blue­prints for the mod­i­fi­ca­tions were de­vel­oped by UD pro­fes­sor Cole Gal­loway and his GoBabyGo pro­gram, which is based at the STAR Cam­pus. Gal­loway started the project sev­eral years ago as a way to find a cheaper and eas­ier al­ter­na­tive to heavy mo­tor­ized wheel­chairs for kids with mo­bil­ity is­sues.

Tris­ten Jones, 1, re­ceived a mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cle with a PVC pipe struc­ture that keeps him up­right. The idea is to help him strengthen his leg mus­cles, his mother, Nina Jones, said as she watched the vol­un­teers work last week.

“It means a lot to see the com­mu­nity come to­gether for kids they don’t even know,” she said.

Three-year-old T.J. Park, who is par­a­lyzed from the waist down, wasted no time driv­ing his car around the park­ing lot.

“It means a lot to us,” grand­mother Ja­nine Park said. “He will be driv­ing all around our yard. We have six acres.”

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing her pur­ple and blue car adorned with Dis­ney “Frozen” de­cals, 2-year-old Everly Schea took it for a spin with 18-month-old cousin No­vaLynn Stephens rid­ing shot­gun.

“She doesn’t of­ten get to go from point A to point B fast,” her mom said, ex­plain­ing that Everly has low mus­cle tone. “This will give her a lot of free­dom.”

Ben­nett An­der­son, 2, takes his new mod­i­fied Power Wheels car for a spin at the city’s main­te­nance yard last Fri­day af­tern­non.

Tris­ten Jones, 1, tries out his mod­i­fied Power Wheels car.

T.J. Park, 3, drives his new mod­i­fied Power Wheels car as grand­mother Ja­nine Park looks on.

Elec­tric Di­rec­tor Bhadresh Pa­tel (cen­ter) helps mod­ify Power Wheels cars for chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties dur­ing a team build­ing event last Fri­day.

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