Student organization plans mobility project


Photo courtesy of Gobabygo MAC Facebook Page GETTING THE WHEELS TURNING—In preparation for their first vehicle modification coming up, Cold Logic Robotics students, from Marquette High School, assemble the base of the vehicle on Wednesday, March 11.

Mary McDonough

While many students wait to go back to restaurants and beaches when COVID-19 has been controlled, one NMU student is waiting to continue work on a life-changing community project.

Last year, junior sports science major Elizabeth Mansfield started work on a community service internship as a part of the Student Leader Fellowship Program (SLFP). While it would have been easy to put in hours at a local nursing home or public school, Mansfield pushed to go a little bigger and connected with GoBabyGo, a community-based design program that helps to get mobility aids to young children with disabilities in the age range of one to four. The battery-operated cars that kids can drive act as a type of wheelchair. This allows more freedom of movement when actual wheelchairs for children of that size are hard to find or afford.

Mansfield explained that by bringing GoBabyGo to the U.P, it could make a large impact on more than just the Marquette area community. 

“There are no GoBabyGo programs in the UP Period. In Marquette, not everyone has the same finances,” Mansfield said. “Some families could afford to do this on their own, but not all of them can. Turning this into a formal program allows everyone to have access.”

With help from local occupational therapists, Mansfield connected with a four-year-old girl in Gwinn diagnosed with KIF1A Associated Neurological Disorder (KAND). This gene mutation causes a variety of symptoms, from muscle weakness in the legs and core, to vision degeneration. 

Mansfield, along with the Marquette High School robotics team, designed a vehicle before it had to be halted over COVID-19 precautions. The toy car would offer support and security, while focusing on independence, allowing the young girl to move around on her own. The design process became a learning experience about accessibility technology for the high school students, Mansfield added.

“It’s an opportunity for them to learn about a part of the world that they might not have a lot of experience with. It’s opening their eyes to a different career option,” Mansfield said. “We’re not designing it to replace a power wheelchair or anything. It’s more about giving kids the opportunity to go out and play.” 

The cost of each vehicle depends on the amount of alterations needed for that specific child. As a part of the internship, Mansfield fundraises for materials. She received help from Kiwanis Club of Marquette, which focuses on serving the children of the community. Mansfield currently has around $470 of the needed $1000, through a fundraiser on her Facebook page. 

As concerns spread about the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Mansfield and the team stopped any further progress over safety concerns. However, Mansfield explains that whenever they get the green light to return to work, everything is ready to start building.

“We have the design. I’ve purchased some of the materials, but we’re just waiting for some clearance so we can actually get together and build,” Mansfield said. “We want her to be there so we make sure she feels comfortable and supported.”

Looking back, Mansfield said that it’s more about the relief it will bring to this family rather than an impressive title on a resume. 

“It’s not about grad school applications for me. It’s about doing something cool and seeing it happen. We’re so close, I’m so excited,” Mansfield said.