Ten children got the gift of mobility on Friday at the University of Central Florida, when they rode away with their very own motorized child-sized car.
GoBabyGo is a national effort to provide children without the ability to walk, a way to get around. The organization retrofits motorized toy cars for children with special needs. UCF has been working with the creator, University of Delaware professor Cole Galloway, and his nonprofit to bring the same opportunity to Central Florida. The local group, led by physical therapy professor Jennifer Tucker, held its third big “build” event from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Fairwinds Alumni Center on the main campus.
This time Tucker and her student therapists teamed up with the Orlando Health to bring the little cars to Central Florida. Children came from Orlando, Winter Garden, St. Cloud, Volusia, Daytona Beach and Perry, Florida. But the need is so high in in the Southeast that one family drove in from Bishop, Georgia, for a chance to get a free vehicle.
Volunteers from Orlando Health, Orlando City Soccer, Arnold Palmer Invitational and UCF’s physical therapy program met the families and assisted in the building of the vehicles. Then the children raced them under an official NASCAR checker flag on Memory Mall while the families, volunteers and special guests cheered on the young drivers.
“This is a community need that we don’t necessarily hear enough about,” said Lainie Fox Ackerman, director of community benefit at Orlando Health. “We wanted to help bring local families this innovative yet simple option to get their kids moving. The joy on a child’s face and the freedom the program brings will have an immeasurable impact on their future.”
Tucker, who has a waiting list of more than 30 families who are interested in getting a motorized toy car, said the event isn’t about a cute photo opportunity.
“This is about independent mobility,” Tucker said. “We know that getting children mobile isn’t just a necessary part of their physical therapy. It is also a critical part in a child’s socialization, growth and future potential. This is about so much more than a car. This is about giving a child an opportunity at a future that includes not being left on the sidelines as their peers move ahead.”
Megan Mueller said she expects the car to be life-changing for her son Lucas.
“It was really exciting to put him in there for the first time today, to see him strapped in there and just to know that he had the ability to move on his own,” she said. “I teared up a little, to know that he had that experience to just go and move and have fun.”
During the event parents and community guests also had an opportunity to see a special harness system developed by Cole and Enliten LLC.
It provides children and adults with the ability to move. The harness system is especially helpful for people who have traumatic brain injury and who have difficulty balancing for very long.