WENATCHEE - Wenatchee resident Francisco Garibay just got a new set of wheels, and he’s only three years old.
Garibay’s ride is actually a battery-powered toy vehicle, which was fully customized by a group of advanced engineering students at Wenatchee High School.
The little Ford F-150 replica was purchased and retrofitted with grant funding through a national program called GoBabyGo!, which helps in the establishment of projects that allow children who have certain disabilities to become more independently mobile.
“Francisco has spina bifida and so he doesn’t have any use of his legs below his waist,” said the engineering class’ instructor Doug Merrill. “I think what’s exciting about today is we’ve seen him already riding in this vehicle and it’s like, this might be the first time he’s ever run away from his mom. And so, that’s an exciting part of a child’s life, is being able to play a game and just simply when he hasn’t been able to do that in the past he’s able to do something like this.”
The schematics of each toy car designed through the GoBabyGo! program vary depending on the specific needs of the child they are made for, and the list of garage details for Francisco’s truck reads like an aftermarket checklist of special modifications that any hot-rodder would be proud to boast about.
“What we did is we took the gas pedal and then we converted that,” explained Merrill. “The students took that , took it out, and then they adapted a new 'go' button on the top on the steering wheel, so that it’s all hand operated.”
One of Merrill’s students who helped reconfigure the vehicle is Niko Omlin, who told iFIBER ONE News, “Essentially, we built power wheels and then we get specifications from a kid that might need physical features to help them. In this case, Francisco’s legs don’t have full function, so we built a roll-cage, made it so the entire vehicle is hand-controlled so he can drive around in ‘em.”
When we told Omlin he makes it all sound so easy, he replied, “Yeah, I would say it was pretty easy. You might need a couple more tools than regular but it’s alright.”
In addition to the hands-on lessons in applied mechanics that the program has offered, there is a human component within every student which is also getting thoroughly beta tested as well - one that’s proving to make the class even more rewarding.
“What I think is really neat is the empathy piece,” detailed Merrill. “And what happens with that is, they have to look at this as students who have some kind of a disability and so it’s like, how do they have some compassion, how do they empathize with them so that they can better make a car build for these youngsters.”
Omlin talked about the most rewarding part of the process to build Francisco’s car
“This right here," Omlin said. "It feels good sending him home with a new toy that he’ll be able to use for a long time.”
And needless to say, Francisco’s mom is also feeling pretty blessed as well.
“I’m really happy with this whole experience,” said Maribel Garibay. “I feel like he’s really enjoying it and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It just keeps telling him that he can do anything really, because that little guy wants to do everything, just like everybody else and nothing stops him.”
And now, there’s a lot less that will be stopping Francisco from doing whatever he’d like.
Mr. Merrill’s classes will be drawing up plans and re-engineering 19 more toy vehicles through the GoBabyGo! program over the coming months.