By Jill Draper
On November 11th, members of the Barstow School Robotics Team personalized a fleet of kids red Power Wheels by applying decals—smiley faces for a little girl who giggles with her sister, yellow-rayed suns for another who likes sunshine, Iron Man for a superhero fan. But the decals are just decorations. The most important thing the team is personalizing are the cars themselves.
Each ride-on electric car is being adapted for young children with disabilities like Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or low muscle tone. The goal is to make it easier for the kids to be mobile and independent and maybe increase their playtime with siblings.
The cars, six of them, are supplied by the local nonprofit Variety KC in connection with a national program called Go Baby Go! The Barstow students created kits and manuals and led robotics teams from area high schools on Nov. 11 when the community build was scheduled at the Dan & Cassidy Towriss IDEA Space KC at 12200 State Line Road.
“It’s a very emotional event,” says Emily Smith, a Barstow freshman who handles marketing for the robotics team. “It’s amazing how someone like me, a 14-year-old, can help people in ways that I never thought I could.”
Smith says the modifications include replacing a pedal starter switch with a big push button and adding PVC pipe cushioned by foam pool noodles to keep the children securely inside. Sometimes they adjust the seat height or add beeping sensors for kids with impaired vision.
Barstow began working with Go Baby Go! in 2015. This year’s event is the first one since the pandemic. In the future the student team hopes to collaborate with schools in places like Turkey and Great Britain to instigate similar programs. Also in the future Variety KC hopes to expand the event to twice a year, says Ali O’Grady, community liaison officer.
O’Grady adds that the children receiving the cars range in age from 1½ to 3½ years old and require a note from their doctor or physical therapist to participate. She says the nonprofit spends about $350 on each car.
Other high schools helping with this year’s project are Lincoln College Prep Academy, Blue Valley Center for Professional Studies, Desoto High School & Mill Valley High School, Park Hill High School, Paola High School and Camdenton High School.