PJ robotics helps build vehicle for disabled girl at GoBabyGo event

Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School

SPARTA — The Pope John XXIII Regional High School robotics team has created a lot of inventions in its laboratories downstairs in the rectory.

Most of these creations have earned them trophies in their robotics leagues, articles in local media outlets and praise from many people around the world.

None of them, however, compare to what they experienced during one of their most recent projects.

The robotics team helped design and build an electrically operated vehicle for a disabled girl during an event sponsored by the University of Delaware’s GoBabyGo program and Toyota at the Children's Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick. 

“This was a lot of fun,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School sophomore Evan Rizzo said. “We were able to give back to the community and use our talents for something great rather than just building something for a competition or just messing around with tools.”

The robotics team was invited to take part in the GoBabyGo event after one of the team member’s parents reached out to workers at Picatinny Arsenal and one of those workers suggested to get in contact with GoBabyGo.

GoBabyGo is a national program that focuses on helping those who have conditions like conditions like CP, spina bifida, or Down syndrome improve their mobility. The goal of the program is to build an electrically operated vehicle and tailor it to meet the needs of a specific disabled child.

After hearing about the program, the robotics team jumped on the opportunity to attend the event.

“Part of the program is doing outreaches for the community and some of these outreaches allow us to get something out of them, but this was more along the lines of what we at Pope John do everyday,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School junior Chris Biancone said. “It’s nice to do something other than for ourselves.”

When they got to the hospital for the event on Oct. 14, the team members joined forces with engineers from University of Delaware, Toyota employees and hospital physical or occupational therapists to help a girl named Jaleah.

Using instructions provided on an iPad by GoBabyGo, the PJ robotics members and their team members from Delaware, Toyota and the hospital put together a plastic battery operated vehicle — one of 12 that were made at the event — that was custom to Jaleah. Her vehicle was a baby blue Jeep Wrangler that had logos from the hit Disney movie “Frozen” and was decorated with snowflakes, butterflies and flowers.

More importantly, the team rerouted the electrical system in the car so that Jaleah only needed to push a large button on the steering wheel to drive the car, giving her the freedom to move. In addition, they helped design a special seating configuration that included a 5-point safety harness and extra padding to keep Jaleah safely secured.

When they completed the project, the PJ robotics members were in awe of Jaleah and her parents’ reactions to it.

“It was really cool,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School junior Austin Fett said. “When she was riding it, she was having so much fun. It was a great feeling.”

“It was really gratifying,” Biancone said. “That made the day worth it.”

While they are looking forward to their future projects and competitions in the FIRST Technology Challenge league, the robotics team will always remember the day they helped Jaleah become a mobile kid.

“We made something that she will love and use forever,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior Keith Johnson said. 

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