Students collaborate to aid disabled children

Tori Smith, a Bellarmine University physical therapy student, looked on as Gregory Ellermann Jr. sat in a child-size car March 21. St. Patrick students worked with Bellarmine students to customize the car for him. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Fourth and fifth graders who are involved with the Student Technology Leadership Program at St. Patrick School worked alongside physical therapy students from Bellarmine University on March 21 to customize child-sized vehicles for kids with mobility problems.

The electric vehicles were donated to two families with young sons.

Gael Alvarado Avila — Wendy Avila’s and Jorge Alvarado’s four-year-old son — received one of the vehicles.

Gregory Ellerman Jr., a 15-month-old boy, got a black Lexus-style vehicle. His father, Gregory Ellerman Sr., said his son was born prematurely because of a brain bleed he suffered while still in the womb. Little Gregory now has problems moving one side of his body. His father said he is grateful for the car.

“It’s great because he has mobility issues and his sisters don’t. They’re out riding their bikes in the yard and this will help him” to keep up with them, said Gregory Ellerman Sr.

The project came about after St. Patrick won a grant from the Cerebral Palsy Foundation’s Go Baby Go program, said Kristina Bloch, a librarian at St. Patrick who led the project. Go Baby Go provides the modified ride-on cars to children with disabilities, according to the foundation’s website.

A group of St. Patrick School fourth and fifth graders worked with a volunteer electrician to assemble a child-size car March 21 in the school’s library. The car will be donated to a family who has a child experiencing problems with mobility. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Bloch coordinates the Student Technology Leadership Program (STLP) at St. Patrick. She realized that this project would fit with the school’s stewardship efforts. One of the lessons the students learn in the STLP program is that “the products that mean the most are helpful and impactful,” she said.

Dr. Nathan Sturtzel, school principal, agreed that the project fits well with the school’s efforts to give back to the community.

“It’s a passion for technology meeting a heart for service,” he said during a recent interview. The students are taught to be “grateful,” to be “good stewards” and that giving back is important to the community, he said.

Bloch said the project wouldn’t be possible without the students from Bellarmine University’s School of Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences.

These students — who are working toward degrees in physical therapy — have donated many hours to the project, Bloch said. They’ve come to St. Patrick to talk to the students about the ins and outs of customizing the vehicles as well as how the project will benefit children and their families.

“There’s been a lot of good questions,” said Bloch. Some of their discussions has centered around technology helping to make life easier for individuals with disabilities. “We can’t fix the problem yet. We don’t have a cure but technology can bridge the gap.”

A group of St. Patrick School fourth and fifth graders worked with Gracie Byrum, a Bellarmine University physical therapy student, to assemble a child-size car March 21 in the school’s library. The car will be donated to a family who has a child experiencing problems with mobility. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

Among the students who worked on the vehicles was Penny Sparks, a fourth grader. Penny said she did research and learned a lot about children born with cerebral palsy and mobility problems.

“I feel happy to help and make a difference in their life,” said Penny. “I feel it will let them feel more independent. If they have a wheelchair, they have to tell someone where they need to go. If they have their own car they can control where they’re going.”

Dr. Leann Kerr, a physical therapist and professor at Bellarmine, said the university has been working with the Go Baby Go program for seven years. During that time, Bellarmine has modified and donated 130 vehicles to children in Louisville and southern Indiana.

The vehicles are modified to meet the needs of the children receiving them, she noted. The modifications include adjusting harnesses, installing hand controls and safety features and adjusting the seat. Local volunteer electricians, who install electric wiring, are part of every build.

Kerr said the idea is to get children with disabilities to experience movement because that stimulates their development. “You’re looking at giving that moving experience across the spectrum, regardless of mobility,” she said.

Ruby Thomas
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Ruby Thomas
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