GoBabyGo! Mobility & Sociability Charlevoix-Emmet ISD

Char-Em ISD's Early Childhood staff are taking part in a national initiative to provide mobility opportunities to children age 5 and under who have mobility challenges. The "GoBabyGo!" program was started by the University of Delaware and now includes more than 40 partners around the U.S., including Char-Em ISD.

GoBabyGo! modifies commercial toy ride-on cars to provide mobility and sociability for children, by adapting the cars to address each child’s unique needs and abilities.

The Petoskey High School Robotics Team, the Paladins, are partnering with Char-Em in this effort. The Paladins work with parents and Char-Em staff in the design, engineering and modification of the vehicles. 

For information, contact Nicole Lindwall, Early On Coordinator, at 231.582.8070.

More information about GoBabyGo! can be found on the University of Delaware web site.

2017 Go Baby Go! Build for Jeremiah Nelson

Char-Em ISD, Petoskey and Central Lake Robotics students come together to build customized, motorized car for young boy with mobility challenge

CENTRAL LAKE – Early Saturday mornings are typically fairly quiet in a high school gymnasium, but that was not the case on Dec. 16, 2017, when approximately 30 students, teachers, parents and volunteers came together at Central Lake High School to help a special little boy get his own set of wheels.

The effort was part of the Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District’s involvement with the national Go Baby Go! program, launched originally by the University of Delaware. It now includes dozens of partners around the U.S., like Char-Em, and hundreds of volunteers who modify and customize vehicles for young children with mobility challenges. This is the second year that Char-Em ISD has led a build for children under age 5, and the second year also that the Petoskey High School Paladins robotics team has volunteered its time and talents to help.

On Saturday, the robotics students, ISD staff and volunteers began customizing a small toy car to help 21-month-old Jeremiah Nelson, of Central Lake, be able to motor himself around for the first time. Jeremiah was born with spina bifida, which means he is unable to crawl or walk, and has limited mobility on his right side, said his mom, Danielle.

“It can't be underestimated what the freedom of movement means to a young child,” said Nicole Lindwall, Early On Coordinator for the ISD and Go Baby Go. “When you think of a 2-year-old, you automatically think of their curiosity and motivation to explore their world. For children with mobility challenges, these customized, modified ride-on cars means freedom to them: Freedom to explore, freedom to be social, freedom to be independent.”

For Jeremiah, that freedom was expressed through a huge smile after the four-hour project was completed and he took off for the first time in his customized Lightning McQueen. He and his mom and dad, Danielle and Stacy Nelson, and older brother, Samuel, were on hand for the build as the students assessed his needs while they built the car specifically for him.

“We took out the seat and the steering wheel that it came with and we replaced it with one that he can hold, since he has really good mobility with his left hand,” said Petoskey High School robotics student Paige Smith. “He will be able to steer it with his left hand and we have a button for him as the accelerator instead of pedals. We modified the seat, so that it will have a harness for him to sit up straight and the backrest for him so that he will be comfortable.”

Mary Jean Meyerson, one of two coaches for the Petoskey robotics program, said her team was thrilled to bring in the Central Lake students and introduce Go Baby Go to them, with hopes of helping even more children in the future.

“The Petoskey Paladins started working with Go Baby Go last spring after being contacted by Char-Em ISD. Once the students learned what a difference a Go Baby Go car can make in a special needs child’s life, they couldn’t wait to get started,” Meyerson said. “Through our partnership with Char-Em ISD, the Paladins provide the hands-on mechanical and electrical skills needed to modify the cars, while working with the families and children to make sure that the cars are optimized for each child.

“Since the child we worked with at the Dec. 16 session, Jeremiah, lives in Central Lake, we solicited the help of the Central Lake robotics team, the TRObotics, to build the car at their workshop. They will continue to work on modifications needed as Jeremiah grows.”

Central Lake robotics team mentor Dave Hickman says his team builds robots regularly, but this project was unlike any other.

“You're not just building a robot. This is actually impacting somebody's life and it's just a feeling you can't replace," said Hickman. “This is not only helping the parents, but this child is actually going to have the freedom that we all take for granted. To just move around as he wants, and I don't know how to put that into words without tearing up, to be honest."

The students likewise had powerful reactions to helping Jeremiah.

“I went because it was a chance to unite two communities and help out a family in need,” said Andrew McNamara, Paladins team captain. “This was especially unique and helped apply real robotics to real-life applications by simply moving a gas pedal to a different spot. … as soon as we put him in a car, he took off with a huge smile.”

Student Marlee Tache said: "I loved it. I mainly went because I was curious how we were going to build a car for someone who can’t steer. But when I got there and I met Jeremiah, I realized it wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought it was going to be. Seeing the smile on his face with the finished car made it all worthwhile. It is definitely something I would recommend doing or going to see happen.”

Central Lake sophomore Matt Cary said the challenge is in the custom building, because there is no manual; each child has specific needs. “Everything has to be specialized for the child,” said Cary. “It’s fantastic in its own right, because you’re helping someone who wouldn’t be able to help themselves in that situation.”

Paladins student Ethan Eckerle said he hopes to see the program help more families. “Throughout the Go Baby Go process, I noticed how much this program meant to the family and the child. I think it’s a great program and needs to be expanded."

For Jeremiah’s parents, the build for their son was especially meaningful.

“It's overwhelming. I came in here this morning not really knowing what to expect,” said Stacy Nelson, Jeremiah’s dad. “To see close to 30 people from all over Northern Michigan that are willing to sacrifice a
Saturday and take time out of their lives and do this for my kid. It warms my heart to know that we are part of this community, we are so thankful.”

The students have already started talking about ways to build Jeremiah’s next car to help him get around easier as he grows.

That is welcomed news to Char-Em ISD’s administrators, who see much value in the program as part of the services provided to districts and families.

“As an ISD, we support the continued professional learning of our staff, which results in increased knowledge of how to support children and families through innovative projects such as Go Baby Go,”said Jill Haan, Director of Early Childhood. “When staff come to us with an idea that fits, we support them with implementation by letting them take the lead.”

Jeff Crouse, Char-Em ISD Superintendent, said the Go Baby Go program is a “dream opportunity” for collaboration between the ISD’s Early Childhood providers and the talented local robotics students in Northern Michigan. “We couldn't be prouder of the time, energy, and ingenuity provided by the staff, students, and other volunteers. However, we are all most proud of Jeremiah behind the wheel with that big smile.”

To watch video from the build, visit 7&4 News and 9&10 News coverage of the build and visit the Char-Em ISD YouTube channel.