An Enumclaw eighth-grader is making the holiday season a lot brighter for a young boy in need.
Aside from his learn-at-home schedule, Eli Murphy has kept busy modifying a rideable electric toy car for a 3-year-old with physical and speech disabilities. He invested about 75 hours, spread over two-plus months, on the project.
The completed rig was boxed up and shipped to Denver last week so young Ollie Horton receives his special gift and can be riding around on Christmas.
The car project was inspired by the “Go Baby Go” national movement to adapt toy cars for children with mobility issues. The project is funded by the California-based nonprofit Harbor Freight Tools for Schools as a pilot to demonstrate how skilled trades classes can be taught online during the COVID-19 pandemic and to bridge trades classes with core subjects.
To make sure his project met Ollie’s needs, Eli interviewed Ollie’s parents about his mobility issues and needs, consulted with Ollie’s physical therapist about adaptations that would give him control of the car, altered the car’s steering system and pedals and added padding and a lap belt to give Ollie a stable ride. He even fashioned a customized license plate for the special ride.
The Enumclaw middle schooler called upon some YouTube instructional videos to guide him, but also received expert advice from retired Enumclaw High teacher Bob Kilmer – who happens to be a former national grand prize winner of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. Also contributing to the project was Eli’s father, EHS teacher Steve Murphy. In fact, the entire project started as a collaboration between Kilmer and the elder Murphy as a way to involve EHS students. When those plans fell through due to COVID, Eli Murphy – who was looking for ways to keep busy during a time of stay-at-home learning – grabbed onto the project.
The final result was a project – including the car and materials – that cost less than $400. A motorized wheelchair that provides many of the same advantages carries a price tag in the neighborhood of $17,000.
The connection to Ollie came through connections within the Enumclaw High family: the 3-year-old is the nephew of EHS counselor Necia Engebretsen and her husband, EHS Principal Phil Engebretsen.