By Sherri Coner
“What do you think, buddy?” Southsider Patrick Bushnell asked as he placed his son Bowen, 3, on the seat of the bright red and khaki colored, tot-sized jeep. “How about that, dude?”
Although Bowen grinned at his dad, he had a tight grip on his mom, Abby Bushnell, as he studied the steering wheel.
“His older sisters have cars,” Bushnell said. “This car gives Bowen the chance to do what they do.”
Student and community participation
Now in its third year of modifying toy cars for young children with disabilities, Southport High School’s Mini Movers project continues to draw student participation as well as big hearts in the community willing to donate toward the cause.
In the first year, the project provided a modified car for one child.
Last year, three children received modified cars.
This year, seven little faces studied the cars, tailored to fit their individual needs.
Based on feedback from parents and professionals, students move gas pedals, adapt steering wheels, reinforce seat belts or add harnesses to help a child’s torso to remain upright.
They also problem-solve in order to accommodate children who wear leg braces or have limited use of their hands.
Each parent is provided with a remote control for their child’s car.
A few feet behind Bowen and his family, three Southport High School students, Quinn Carmody, Tabytha Hite and Sam Shelburn gently introduced Hazel Jones, 4, to her new police car.
Although she was smiling, Hazel seemed a little overwhelmed by the flashing LED lights on the car, which can also be turned off.
Students involved with Mini Movers work in teams.
Cannady, a senior, and Hite, a freshman, worked on wiring lights for cars and adding additional modifications.
Shelburn, a sophomore, collaborated with the team focused most on construction and building.
Since the beginning of Mini Movers, Junior, Katie Essex, has coordinated the project.
Stressing that Mini Movers needs a lot more than engineering and robotics students, Essex recruited additional talent. She found students interested in community fundraising and students experienced with 3D printers to create keychains for fundraisers.
Essex also invited art students to decorate the children’s cars.
Now the Mini Movers project showcases a sampling of nearly every talent and interest in the school.
“It’s not only about engineering,” Essex said.
As he studied a couple of children with their families, Shelburn grinned.
“It’s great to see these kids,” said this first year Mini Movers participant. “They look so happy.”
This year several Greenwood Community High School students asked to work alongside Southport students, said physics teacher Anthony Stanich, who oversees Project Lead the Way, a national high school organization, as well as the Mini Movers project, sponsored this year by Southport CyberCard Robotics.
“It’s nice to see the high school kids learning how engineering and robotics affect their lives. They are learning about it and applying it,” Stanich said. “It’s also about making little kids happy with experiences every child deserves to have.”