The workshop was one of a series put on by the Medina-based non-profit group RePlay for Kids. Last year, the group held 112 workshops, generating 1,300 adapted toys that were distributed to Northeast Ohio children in December.
“These toys aren’t available on the market,” said Natalie Wardega, vice president and director of operations for RePlay for Kids.
Wardega was on hand to give a tutorial on adapting the toys and to offer assistance to the workshop’s elves.
They took mainstream, battery-operated toys – everything from remote-controlled cars and trucks to singing stuffed animals to musical toys – and installed new wiring and switches.
Instead of trying to use small, complicated buttons to play with the toys, kids who have disabilities can now use larger, more interactive buttons and switches.
The community room was literally buzzing with a cacophony of whirring engines, sirens, flashing lights, music, beeps and toots as the Kiwanis members tinkered with the toys.
“It’s a lot of fun and a little bit out of my comfort zone,” Evening Kiwanis member Mike VanArsdale said as he struggled to rewire a Thunder Tumbler remote-controlled vehicle.
“It’s fun doing things with our hands and doing something nice for the kids,” he said.
“I’m doing major rabbit surgery here,” said Kiwanian (and Medina Finance Director) Keith Dirham as he sliced into the guts of a stuffed white bunny.
“The switch was right in its belly,” Dirham said. He and Deonna Green eventually got the rabbit’s ears twitching again.
Some of the challenges were more technical than others. When asked how he was doing with a remote-controlled car, Evening Kiwanis President Stuart Root laughed and said, “Not so good. It took 20 minutes just to get it out of the box.”
Eventually, he was able to install a new switch.
“It is great that we can adapt toys so kids with disabilities can play with them. Helping kids is a big part of Kiwanis,” Root said.
Alan Penn, a member of Medina’s Breakfast Kiwanis group and executive director of the Ohio Kiwanis Foundation, said: “It’s very easy to adapt a toy. It’s easier than you think. It doesn’t take a lot of mechanical skills.”
“It’s very much like assembling a toy on Christmas,” he said.
The foundation gave a grant to the Evening Kiwanis to host its first workshop last year.
“It was a real success and a wonderful thing to give to these young people. I’m glad the Evening club brought it to town,” Penn said.
Barb Smith, secretary of the Evening club, said about 10 people helped at last year’s workshop.
“We were a brand new club, and this was our first project,” she said. “It was really neat.”
This year, they opened it up to the other three Medina Kiwanis clubs and to people in the community.
“All four Medina clubs are here. We’re working together on a lot of projects this year,” Smith said.
In addition to the two workshops hosted by the Kiwanis, RePlay for Kids also held an event in October in which 15 Medina High School students and teachers adapted toys for children at the Medina County Achievement Center’s Windfall School.
“Young children learn through play and social interaction, and children with disabilities are no exception,” said Dr. Kaye Stanley-Bryson, the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ director of children’s services.
“Limitations in strength and coordination often prevent them from using typical, mainstream toys,” she said.
Wardega said the children who receive the adapted toys are thrilled to be able to join in the fun with their siblings and friends.
“You have the latest and greatest toys, whatever they are, and they’ve been adapted to allow the kids to use them easily. That motivates the kids to play with them and improve their skills,” Wardega said.
A lot of those benefits go beyond just the joy of play. Understanding cause and effect – how hitting a button will make a toy move or make noise – and improving physical coordination can make it easier for kids to operate motorized wheelchairs or turn on the lights when they enter a room, she said.
For the Kiwanians, it’s all about making kids smile. And having some fun themselves.
“We have a lot of fun. We eat. We get a lot of toys done. It’s just a good evening,” Smith said.
- ^ Medina Kiwanis (www.medinakiwanis.org)
- ^ A.I. Root (rootcandles.com)
- ^ RePlay for Kids. (www.replayforkids.org)
- ^ Breakfast Kiwanis (www.medinabreakfastkiwanis.org)
- ^ Ohio Kiwanis Foundation (www.odkf.org)
- ^ Medina High School (www.medinabees.org)
- ^ Medina County Achievement Center’s Windfall School (www.mcbdd.org)
- ^ Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ (www.mcbdd.org)
- ^ www.replayforkids.org (www.replayforkids.org)