UNF engineer, physical therapy students team up to adapt life-changing toys

Holiday Hold

A very special program is giving some Jacksonville area kids with special needs the gift of mobility this holiday season.

Action New Jax reporter Courtney Cole is going to introduce you to the students and professors who helped make it all possible, and the families whose lives are changed for the better.

"Just seeing how this actually impacts peoples' lives is an awesome feeling,” said Taylor Chalman.

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She’s a senior engineering student at the University of North Florida.

Chalman is also a part of the team of students participating in the Adaptive Toy Project. This is the fourth year the students are being challenged to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real life.

They work together to modify toy cars the children will be able to play and ride in.

While they're a lot of fun for the kids, the toys help them acquire essential  communication and developmental skills.

Physical therapy students and engineering students here at UNF began working on these cool rides in September. Each child's car is customized for their special needs.

Jenny Buckman, mother of 2-year-old Finn Valentin, said these sweet new wheels are more than they could have ever hoped for!

"He's so sweet and so funny and always has a smile. He's definitely going to have a smile on a lot more these days now that we have this to play around with,” said Buckman

Four generations of family gathered at UNF to see little Finn take his first drive.

"Finn has cerebral palsy, so he can't really control his legs very well. So obviously, a typical Power Wheels would be really difficult for him to do, if at all."

Now, look at him go, fearlessly "using the force" to move his Darth Vader gear shift to and fro, not letting anything stop him, even a few walls.

"Everything that we mentioned that he might like, they did that and so much more!" said Buckman.

Erika and Stephen Jones say they're overcome with joy their "miracle baby" will now have the chance to play with her two sisters.

Abigail "Abby" Jones, 3, was born with down syndrome and a brain tumor.

"We went straight into hospice and they said,' Hey, she's not going to survive, just take her home,” said Stephen Jones.

But the tumor stopped growing and it was removed when she was 9-weeks-old.

"It caused some problems with her right side, where it's not as strong as her left. She has a big problem moving around,” Jones told Action News Jax.

But her new pink Jeep is sure to help with that.

"This is her way to get around and this is her way to interact. In the world, it's something we take for granted,” Stephen Jones said.

While she was a little overwhelmed by it at first sight, her sisters will be there to help her along the way.

"What they've done is allow Abby to play with her older and younger sister when they're outside running around, which is something she's never had before. She's never had that before! It's really life-changing to have,” said Stephen Jones.