November 30, 2019
By Tribune Staff
For the first time, students from the Lee’s Summit North High School robotics team, The Broncobots (Team 1987), got to participate in an event where they modified a toy ride-on car to provide mobility for a child with a disability.
Variety KC – Go Baby Go! is a partnership by Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City (Variety KC) and the FIRST Robotics Team 1939 from The Barstow School to provide these cars to local children with disabilities. Twenty-two children received custom cars at the event on Nov. 23, 2019.
Over the past five years, more than 200 children have received custom cars through Variety KC – Go Baby Go!
Local students modify the cars to fit the child’s individual needs by using toys and hardware – for example, adding buttons instead of foot pedals or using foam swim noodles for seat support.
The cars cost $300 to $500 before modifications, and the modifications usually cost less than $300, according to Variety KC. Variety KC buys the supplies using money from donations.
The Broncobots students who participated are Emma Cothran, Zane Dautenhahn, Clarice Kent, Ami Kleffner, Scott Kleffner and Austin Yarbrough along with Coaches Hillary Griffith and Jon Smith.
In the past, the Broncobots always had other robotics events on the same day as this event. Griffith said it was a great experience, and the students left the event beaming.
“They were so excited,” Griffith said. “They all wanted to see the pictures and videos to relive those moments, and when he was getting to use the car for the first time, they were all invested to try to help him be successful.”
Kent, a sophomore Broncobots first-year team member, said she loved seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they received the cars.
“The experience was life-changing,” Kent said. “It really opened my eyes to everything like how fortunate we are to be able to do something as simple as walking on our own or even moving on our own.”
Kent said she encourages everyone to participate in this event if given the chance.
“It’s important because it gives us the opportunity to give back to the community with our skills and what we’ve learned in robotics, and it’s also important because these kids wouldn’t get these cars or any other equipment like this if we didn’t give back.”
Barstow Robotics Coach Gavin Wood said this project is important because motorized wheelchairs for small children are expensive and hard to find. Many children can’t operate a manual wheelchair, and the task left up to caregivers can be physically exhausting.
“Once you get them into that car, you see their faces light up,” Wood said. “Imagine being three or four years old and never having self-directed mobility before where you can move and get around from one place to another without being pushed.”
These motorized cars also offer opportunities for these children to be included and allow them to be more physically active. Therapists and physicians report positive growth in various areas of development and families report increased happiness and broader horizons for their children, according to Variety KC.
“(Variety KC) showed us videos of kids playing at recess with their modified cars and they were able to participate with a typically-developing child and not just sit on the sidelines,” Griffith said. “It allows these kids to be included, which is so important from a young age.
Wood said one of the kids that his team built a car for has outlived her life expectancy at only 3 years old.
“When you think about that kind of stuff, it really does make you emotional and it chokes me up sometimes, but it mostly makes me happy that you put in all this hard work and then see the fruits of your labor which are the effects that it has on these families.”
Wood said that when he asks his students what they want to be when they’re older, they often say they want to do something that makes the world a better place.
“But I really don’t see any reason why these kids have to wait around until they grow up to start doing that,” Wood said. “If you have the skills to start doing something now that affects peoples’ lives in a positive way, then you should go ahead and start doing that right now and not wait around until some future date.”
To learn more about Variety KC – Go Baby Go!, visit VarietyKC.org.