The gift of mobility
City employees modify toy cars for disabled kids
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.