It’s a student club, with 30 members from multiple majors and departments across the University. Their backgrounds, studies and interests may differ, but they certainly have one thing in common: “Helping Hand.” It's one of the most dynamic and emotionally compelling projects we've seen in a while.
“Helping Hand” is a student-led and faculty-backed nonprofit organization, originally founded at UNC Chapel Hill. UNC Charlotte’s project team is creating 3-D recreational prosthetics for children, at no cost. Traditional prosthetics can be upward of thousands of dollars, and many children quickly outgrow them. Some families even forgo prosthetics solely because of the cost. These innovative and forward-thinking students are making magic for children and their families. So far, they’ve distributed prosthetics to three children – and it’s just the beginning.
Within the Makerspace Lab of the College of Computing and Informatics, the Helping Hand team has devoted hours using minds and machines to innovate and create opportunity. Having diversity among the team, they’re able to leverage and maximize their strengths for public good. “It truly makes a difference,” says club president and senior Henry Weaver, a Biology honors student. “Everyone brings their own aspects to the club. It’s something everyone can connect to.” The students talk about the amazed faces of the kids and the smiles of the parents.
“It’s extraordinary to put in the hours they do, to show that they have the drive and the dedication to create something for someone else,” says project advisor and assistant professor of Biological Sciences Richard Chi, who has a personal connection with the project. His child was diagnosed with a limb difference, and he wanted to build his own prosthetic. And that’s how he became advisor to the student group. “You feel empowered that you can physically do something to impact a child’s life.”
The major component for each prosthetic is a plastic filament that is then melted to create the device. The plastics come in a multitude of colors, allowing the team and children to get creative. In fact, many times prosthetics are personalized for their recipient. They’ve even built one with a fidget spinner included.
It costs the team approximately $20 for the materials and printing for a fully functioning device. However, it can take weeks, sometimes months, to successfully assemble a prosthetic. Another detractor is that over time the plastic can deteriorate resulting in shorter shelf life.
These factors haven’t deterred the students one bit – in fact, they’re leading fundraising efforts through a special crowdfunding initiative. With a goal of $5,000, they’re looking to expand outreach into K-12 schools, promote STEM education and ultimately deliver prosthetic devices to children in other countries. With help, these students will continue lending a helping hand around the world.
(Pictured: Dr. Richard Chi fitting a recreational prosthetic)