Feature Story

Youth Learn Technology Skills While Helping Children in Need of Prosthetics

Jon Peabody had no idea when he attended a technology training program that he would use that information to inspire local youth to create prosthetic hands for children in need. It’s a remarkable story that is making a real difference in the lives of many children.

Jon oversees our afterschool program, called the 21st Century Community Learning Center, which serves third through eighth graders in Bound Brook.

Jon recently attended a 4-day training at a nonprofit called Digital Harbor, based in Baltimore, Maryland, to learn how to teach 3D printing to his afterschool students. At the end of the seminar, Digital Harbor gave every participant their own 3D printer. When Jon returned to Middle Earth with the printer, he began to research projects that he could teach his students to do with the printer.

“The printer can make a lot of fun, silly things,” said Jon, “but I wanted to find something with a little more meaning behind it. I came across a video on YouTube of a little boy getting a prosthetic arm that was 3d printed and made very inexpensively. A few more Google searches led me to discover the e-NABLE website.”

e-NABLE is a global network of volunteers who are using their 3D printers, design skills, and personal time to create 3D printed prosthetic hands for those in need – with the goal of providing them for free to underserved populations around the world. These prosthetics are especially helpful to children for whom traditional prosthetics are too expensive (because they can cost thousands of dollars per year) or impractical (because children outgrow them too quickly).

Using e-NABLE’s designs and the software MatterControl 1.7, Jon introduced the concept to his afterschool students and began to explore printing a prosthetic hand. Once they had a prototype, they had to submit a video, photos, printer settings, and description of the hand to e-NABLE for review. Middle Earth is now certified by e-NABLE to fabricate and assemble the Phoenix V2 prosthetic hand.

Recognizing the significance of this project, Jon is including a lot of students in the work. Middle Earth’s afterschool students have teamed up with the Bound Brook National Junior Honor Society to help assemble the hands. The students are learning about how a 3d printer works, as well as the basic mechanics and animatronic movement that comes with assembling the hands.

In addition, Jon is using an intern through one of Middle Earth’s employment readiness programs for out-of-school youth, ages 16-24, who are low-income and face life challenges.

“Our intern has been setting up the prints,” said Jon. “I’ve been teaching her how to use the software and the printer. She has expressed interest in the field of 3d printing as a career path so this is a great introduction for her.”

So far, the students have completed 4 prosthetic hands. They plan to make 3 more before they ship them off to be used by those in need.

“What’s really neat about this project is that it teaches important skills while helping others,” said, Maria Strada, Executive Director of Middle Earth. “Our students are gaining a new understanding of science and technology in a real world application, which is great for their growth and development. They are also learning a lot about teamwork, which is essential to preparing them for the workforce. But equally important is showing them how easy it is to significantly improve somebody else’s life with just a little elbow grease and a 3D printer. I’m really proud of them.”

Middle Earth’s afterschool program is funded in its entirety with federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by No Child Left Behind, Title IV, Part B, 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant funds through a grant agreement with the New Jersey Department of Education.