Inherently, I think we all know that service impacts both the volunteer and the recipient of the service. What we can’t always know is how much of an impact the service is making. This example from Volunteers for Medical Engineering (now V-LINC) was one of the stories told by Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Breanne Reynolds this year. Breanne just finished her VMC year, but I think it’s fair to say that she’s left a long-term impact on the volunteers and the community.
The students at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School enter their senior engineering classroom like typical adolescents. The girls giggle over shared inside jokes; the boys walk with that distinctive teenage swagger. Some steal a glance at their cell phones before class starts and others slouch in their chairs waiting for Mr. Scott, their teacher, to take his place at the front of the classroom.
Mr. Scott begins with an announcement that their client, 15-year-old Matt, fell and broke his leg last week. The class erupts in exclamations of surprise and sadness. They want to know what happened, but Mr. Scott doesn’t have details. “It is exactly why we’re working on this project, though,” he explains to them. “Matt needs to strengthen his legs so this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.”
As part of Volunteers for Medical Engineering’s Designing Our Future Program, Mr. Scott’s class took on a project for Matt who has cerebral palsy and weak muscles. They plan to modify an exercise bike for him that plays music and vibrates when he rides.
Fast forward four months, and several of Mr. Scott’s students arrive at the monthly VME meeting to brief the group on their final product for Matt. It’s a Wednesday night and in a mere three days, they’ll be high school graduates. Their excitement is obvious and they joke with each other as they polish off a pizza, waiting for their turn to present.
When they take their place at the front of the room and click on their PowerPoint, it’s clear that they took Matt’s project seriously despite the senioritis that inevitably creeps into all senior classes during the spring semester. They describe, with pride, the care they took to make sure Matt’s knees don’t knock together as he’s pedaling and the special seats they designed so he’s properly supported as he grows. Mr. Scott chimes in occasionally, clarifying points – especially when it comes to the more complicated engineering needed to make the music play and the handlebars vibrate when Matt pedals the bike.
When asked what lessons they learned during the project, they laugh and talk about perseverance and having a plan B. Because like many engineering projects, theirs experienced some bumps and wrong turns along the way. These are lessons that will serve them well whether in engineering school or in life. And maybe an even more important lesson is the fact that with that perseverance and hard work, they were able to make a real and important difference in someone else’s life. Whether they realize it now or when they’re a little older and wiser, that’s pretty inspiring.