New Trier engineering students team up with IL Spina Bifida Association to give kids chance to move

Mark Rivera Image
Friday, March 1, 2024
Local HS students give kids with mobility issues chance to move
Winnetka New Trier High School students are teaming up with the Illinois Spina Bifida Association to give kids with mobility issues a chance to move.

WINNETKA, Ill. (WLS) -- Some local high school students are giving kids living with mobility issues a new chance to move.

It's a partnership with the Illinois Spina Bifida Association, in which the Winnetka students are turning electric toy cars into specialized rides.

They are one-of-a-kind: not just the kids, but the cars.

"The idea is engineering with, not for. We want an engineer with the families instead of engineering for the families," New Trier sophomore Ary Varshney said.

Sophie Mueller, a New Trier junior, is also part of the project.

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"Being able to work with the kids, really customizing everything down to the cars, the stickers, the little adaptive toys that they can put on, and just seeing how much fun they have moving on their own," Mueller said.

Matt Larsen, with the Illinois Spina Bifida Association, said the cars are independent mobility devices that help kids achieve key developmental milestones "so that they can explore their world and connect ideas like curiosity, adventure, mischief with movement."

Larsen said this is the third year they've partnered with these high school engineering students to make mobility tools a super sleek reality for kids.

Little June was just getting her car fitted Thursday.

"The customization is pretty amazing. There's nowhere else that I know of that she could actually be able to drive one of these things on her own," said Millie Brooks, June's mom.

Each of the little electric cars is custom-fitted to each individual child based on their needs by the high school students.

Three-dimensionally printed steering wheels allow them to use the vehicle in new ways, giving them the mobility they may not already have.

"We figure out what their best abilities are and what kind of support they need, so they can safely sit in the cars," occupational and physical therapist Jessica Presperin said.

"It's authentic, it's purposeful and it's really meaningful. And their hearts are on, their heads are on, and it's really hands-on," said Jason Boumstein, with the New Trier Applied Arts Department.