Fifteen-month-old Piper Smith held down the acceleration button on her steering wheel and veered into volunteers lining the hall at top speed.
No one faulted the tot’s crazed driving, instead laughing and cheering her enthusiasm. It was the first time Piper, who has spina bifida, was able to move on her own at a pace faster than a crawl.
On Saturday, more than 75 volunteers adapted toy cars like the one Piper was driving into motorized devices for 11 kids with impaired mobility. The event, held at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, was hosted by the Omaha chapter of the national GoBabyGo organization.
The Munroe-Meyer Guild helped establish Omaha’s GoBabyGo chapter in 2016, according to Joanie Bergeron, a physical therapist and co-coordinator of the chapter.
Bergeron said the cars are free for families thanks to a grant from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
GoBabyGo’s founder, Cole Galloway, started adapting toy cars to fulfill a need for independent movement that the mobility industry doesn’t provide for children under age 4. The cars also help kids’ cognition, language and socialization skills, Galloway said.
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Volunteers, ranging from engineering students to physical therapists, gathered at 8 a.m. to prepare the cars for families arriving at 11 a.m.
Some, including Abigail Haworth, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln biological systems engineering student, had volunteered for the event before. She said she enjoyed her experiences with GoBabyGo and admired the organization’s work.
“It’s important that we keep our eyes open for needs that are out there in the world that aren’t currently being met,” Haworth said, “and find creative ways to address those challenges as soon as possible.”
Bergeron has helped with the event seven times.
“Every time, I get the same feeling seeing the look on the kids’ faces and the families and the siblings,” she said.
Piper’s parents, Don Smith and Nichole Parker-Smith, said their daughter is learning to walk with the help of leg braces and physical therapy.
But for now, at the push of a button, she will be able to explore her environment more. Before, her parents were reluctant to let her crawl around in their yard’s dirt and rocks. The modified toy car allows her to roam their property more freely with her brother.
The couple said they were confident in Piper’s ability to do anything she set her mind to. They talked about getting a Rosie the Riveter sticker for her new bright red vehicle.
Parker-Smith said GoBabyGo
lets kids like Piper “do what everybody else gets to do.”
“I think that’s becoming more and more a part of our culture, and I’m so excited for that,” she said.
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