Darien High students help adapt vehicles for kids with special needs

DARIEN — It’s as simple as big kids helping little kids to grow, or — more accurately — to GoBabyGo!

Students from Darien High School, led by one particularly dedicated senior who oversaw the project, have done their part to help five area kids with disabilities move forward. Working with a program called GoBabyGo! in which toys cars are modified, and assisted by faculty and students from Central Connecticut State University, this group of engineering and tech mavens have provided these young children with adapted vehicles to help strengthen their skills and foster learning.

“It’s been really great just to see how they can take these stock cars and modify them to each individual need,” said Caitlin Engle of Norwalk, whose daughter Elizabeth, 4, was custom-fitted with a car that’s going to specifically help her develop strength on her left side.

“Mobility is really linked to cognition,” said Kelly Hayes-Spencer, a physical therapist with the Darien schools. “So to get these kids up and learning, it has cause and effect … It gives them the opportunity.”

“And I think it’s great for the high school students to work with these kids and see how they can make a change,” she said.

For Finley Wetmore, 17, who chose this as her year-long independent project, all the elements of organization, construction and personal interaction made it a perfect fit.

“It’s just a beautiful idea,” she said, “giving these kids this chance.”

Response from her fellow students as well, she said, has been formidable, with many offering their time in various aspects of it — everything from building to helping keep tabs on the children themselves when they visited the school.

“They become physical therapy tools,” she said of the vehicles, which often times aren’t affordable for families that already have to have a range of adapted items in their home for their kids’ special needs.

“It’s amazing being able to do this for somebody,” she said.

It was her technology and engineering teacher, Rich Reynolds, who suggested the project to her, having participated with CCSU when they have executed it in some other areas around the state.

“It’s a huge undertaking and involves many, many moving parts, (but) they have come together,” he said, explaining how his students love rising to such challenges.

“It lets the kids do real hands-on learning,” said Jeremy Nelson, coordinator for technology and engineering for grades six through 12. “It’s basically real engineering.”

“I think it’s an important project,” Reynolds said. “We’re thinking of making this a yearly event, or every other year, but we need to find students who are as driven and caring as Finley is.”

“She’s put in thousands of hours,” he said.