JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It's innovation at its finest: Local college students have found a way revamp old toys and give them new life, for another generation of kids.
Engineering students at the University of North Florida are modifying toys to make them accessible to all children.
From wires to wheels, this group is busy being Santa's little helpers.
Five-year-old Maddox loves his mom, loves music and is now loving his new Spider Man car. He can't sit up or roll, but thanks to adaptive technology, he can maneuver his own environment.
"He's got nothing like this at home. He's got my back. He's got dad's shoulders. That's as close as he gets," said April Hart, Maddox's mom.
Action News Jax was there as Maddox strapped in and tried out his ride. At first, he needed a little help, but slowly and surely he got it on his own.
"It's a first for him and so it's definitely a milestone," said Hart.
We showed last year you how UNF launched the Adaptive Toy Program. Physical therapy students assess kids like Maddox with physical disabilities, then team up with the electrical and mechanical engineering department. The goal is to pair little ones with toys they may otherwise never experience.
"It's something that they're going to learn with and it's going to impact them forever," said Kristin Ehler, a physical therapy graduate student.
A lot goes in to the finished product. There's tweaking, then testing. For Ricardo Gerena, every toy has deep meaning. He has one brother with spina bifida, and another with cerebral palsy.
"Being able to help kids with similar conditions, to me feels personal. Like I'm helping someone else's little brothers or someone else's little sister," Gerena said.
UNF's program can't help everyone. But each smile, each toy fitting is worth it for Maddox and everyone involved.
Other universities across the country have taken notice of this program. Some have even asked to visit so they can see firsthand how it works. Right now, UNF has 9 kids in its Adaptive Toy Program.
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