Leave It To The Kids

Editor’s note:  How any of us keep our sanity these days is a question I ponder each day.  Between the confusion and mis-information about Covid 19, seven months of claims that Donald Trump got more votes than Joe Biden last November and that January 6 was a “love in” at the nation’s capitol is enough to make anyone doubt their mental capacity..

Then, we happen upon this article from The Washington Post that describes how a high school class took on a project that has brought joy to a young couple and for a few moments we once again realize this world does have things to rejoice about.

Read it and be thankful:

“Jeremy King thought he’d probably be deprived of the simple pleasure of taking his child for a stroll. It was something he desperately hoped to do.

After undergoing brain surgery in 2017, the 37-year-old Marylander was left with mobility and speech challenges. Although his cancerous brain tumor — which was “about the size of a baseball,” he said — was successfully removed, he faced a fresh set of obstacles after the operation.
“Even going out on a walk is so incredibly difficult for me,” said King, adding that balance is his biggest struggle, and he often uses a wheelchair to get around.

When he and his wife, Chelsie King, 32, found out they were expecting their first child in June 2020, they were ecstatic — but the news also sparked concerns for the couple, who live in Germantown, about 30 miles from D.C.
Mainly, they wondered: “How are we going to parent safely? How might Jeremy carry the baby without having to walk?”
While searching online for devices that might assist Jeremy with safely carrying their child, they found little information. Although there are design ideas for wheelchair adaptive strollers, there are limited options to purchase them.

“Getting outside and taking your baby for a walk in a stroller is something that a lot of people take for granted,” Chelsie said.
But fortunately for them, a group of 10 innovative high school students spent several months crafting products that would ultimately enable Jeremy — and other parents with mobility challenges — to safely stroll with a child.

The project started after Chelsie, a middle school drama teacher at Bullis School in Potomac, Md., shared her concerns with a colleague, Matt Zigler, who runs the independent school’s “makerspace” — a creative lab where students are encouraged to participate in hands-on projects.
“I approached him as a personal favor. I know he’s a whiz at building things and is an incredibly collaborative person,” she said.
She expected him to spitball a few potential ideas, but instead, Zigler — who teaches an elective course called “Making for Social Good” — asked her for permission to consult with his high school students.

“It seemed like that would be a perfect project that would engage the kids and result in a successful end product,” Zigler said, adding that the class focuses on creating innovative products that have a positive impact on society. In previous years, students made durable metal information cards engraved with various resources as part of a kit that was distributed to homeless people, as well as solar-powered cellphone chargers that were sent to Africa.
In this case, though, building a product that would directly benefit someone in their own community felt “especially meaningful,” Zigler said.  When he pitched the idea to his students “they were all very excited about it,” he said.

Plus, he added, given that the class is a trimester course which ran from November to March — ending just around the March 4 due date for the baby — “it lined up very well, and gave the students the time crunch they needed to stay focused.”
The students went straight to the drawing board in November and began with basic brainstorming, which included simply sitting and navigating in a wheelchair, while trying to imagine how Jeremy could safely stroll with his child.  “A big part of the course is developing empathy for the person you’re designing for,” Zigler said.

Evan Beach, 15, who just completed ninth grade, said the early stages of the process highlighted “the simple tasks that we take for granted.”  Using a wheelchair that they borrowed from the nurse’s office, as well as two strollers and a car seat that were donated to the class, “they started with low-tech experiments to see what might work, and then once those proved that they had some potential, they spent time refining them,” Zigler said.

The class, which decided to name the project “WheeStroll,” was divided into two teams: One group set out to build an apparatus that would attach an infant car seat to a wheelchair, while the other sought to create a contraption that would safely secure a stroller to a wheelchair for when the child is older.
Once the students devised early-stage blueprints for their respective products, they conducted a virtual interview with the Kings to hash out critical details, including what terrain Jeremy expected to travel on, and what weather he would consider going out in.
After the interview process, students became even more determined to help the family, they said.

“It was really soul-touching talking to them because we really got to understand what they were thinking and their idea of what they wanted,” Evan said.  “I was already really passionate about the project, but just talking to them, seeing their faces and hearing them explain the problem made me that much more inspired,” added Jacob Zlonitsky, 18, who is headed to Boston University in the fall.

 “I was ecstatic to connect with these students,” said Jeremy, who was a nurse anesthetist before his brain surgery and now works on the administrative side of anesthesiology. “They raised important points that we hadn’t even considered ourselves.”
Both teams had three central design goals: safety, maneuverability and ease of use. They also aimed to make the products as cost-effective as possible without sacrificing quality.

While one group embarked on a more complicated route and used a 3-D printer to create connectors to attach a stroller to a wheelchair, the other team purchased simple materials including screws, Velcro cable ties and metal tubes from Home Depot, totaling less than $100.
“One of the goals of the class is to make something that can be cheaply and easily replicated by anyone who has access to some tools and a little knowledge,” said Zigler, who publicly shared a detailed video tutorial explaining how to make the wheelchair attachment, and has received multiple messages from people planning to re-create the product.
Through trial and error, the students produced many iterations of each design, until finally landing on a solid prototype. They connected several metal pipes to securely attach the car seat to the wheelchair and conducted weight tests using 55 pounds of cinder blocks to ensure that the mechanism could safely support a baby.

Although they are still running safety tests on the 3-D printed version, Zigler delivered the completed car-seat connector to the Kings just days after son Phoenix was born.
A few weeks later, the couple tested it out and shared a video of the first ride with the class.

“I was elated,” Jeremy said. “I was really excited to see what they could pull off.”  “It was emotional to see it all come together and [to] put Phoenix in it for the first time,” Chelsie said.

Zigler and his students were proud of their work.  “Seeing the video was like hitting a home run. It felt really good,” Zigler said. “It’s super-gratifying to know that it’s being used and is helping someone.”

Since receiving the wheelchair attachment in March, Jeremy has taken Phoenix on numerous outings and adventures, including to the Bethesda Trolley Trail, a place he’d long hoped to visit with his son.

“These students gave me the opportunity to do something I thought I would never be able to do,” Jeremy said. “I’m really grateful.”


Readers Say, “Get Your Shots”

I am always pleased to hear from readers–even those who disagree with me.  But lately, every one I hear from is just like I am–dismayed that people have resisted getting vaccinated against covid-19.  Many are old enough to recall when polio swept the countryside.

Richard Davis of north Alabama recalls,  “I had polio in the fall of ’48 and spent 18 months in Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. Left shoulder and arm severely limited. In the fall of ’54-55 school year the Salk polio became available. I was the first child in Marion Co to get the vaccine and was the poster child for polio vaccines. NO BODY turned down the shot whether old or young. What is the mental condition of all these people?”

Dr.  Brytney Cobia, a hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, answers this question in an excellent article on AL.com.

They tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

How does one stoop so low as to try and convince fellow citizens that a life or death situation is just a “hoax” or only “political?”  How can you be so self-centered that your own well-being supersedes anyone else’s?

No doubt the people who do this consider that they should be at the head of the line of so-called “patriots.”  I strongly disagree with that.




Another Candidate For U.S. Senate

The Republican primary to replace Senator Richard Shelby picked up another candidate this past week.  Jessica Taylor, a failed candidate in 2020 for the state’s open Second Congressional District, has decided to join Mo Brooks, Lynda Blanchard and Katie Boyd Britt.

          Go here to see Taylor’s video announcement.

While Taylor may have the best of intentions. her video leaves you screaming, IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO?

It is hokey. amateurish and relies on a well-worn message of hate to sow division–not cohesion.   In a nutshell, it is a                       example of once again drawing a line in the sand to appeal to our most base instincts, instead of being uplifting and                         appealing to our better angels.

Taylor obviously wants to be a Trump clone and “drain the swamp.”   But didn’t Trump already do that?  Or maybe I’m                       confusing draining the swamp with the wall at the southern border that Mexico paid for.

She also tells us she will be Vice-President Kamala Harris’  “worst nightmare.”  Which no doubt sent a chill through the V-P’s           spine when she heard it.  Taylor also intends to send the Democratic liberal agenda into outer space which includes $2                     billion. earmarked for Alabama public schools from Covid relief.  I’m sure your local school superintendent will be excited to             know Taylor does not support public education.

When Martha Roby stepped down from Congress recently, Taylor ran for her seat, finishing third in the GOP primary.  At that           time, she said she lived in Prattville.  However, she now says she is a businesswoman in Birmingham

In a time when this country is more divided at any time in decades, candidates like Taylor are the last thing we need.


Remembering Jackie Meacham This 4th Of July

Twenty-seven members of the 1961 class of Theodore high school met for lunch on June 14.  We came from across the country and gave testimony that the passage of time spares no one.

Jackie Meacham was not there.  Just as he has never been able to attend any of our reunions over the years.

The reason he was not seems especially fitting as we once again salute the men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for their county on another 4th of July.

Army PFC Jack Bennie Meacham lost his life in Viet Nam on Sunday, March 3, 1967.  He was 22 years old and had been in Viet Nam less than two months.

Everyone called him Jackie.  Just another kid with a flat top haircut in high school on the outskirts of Mobile.. I don ‘t know if he smoked, but it would be easy to imagine a pack of cigarettes rolled in his T-shirt sleeve.  Jackie would have been a perfect extra for the movie, Grease.  He had a quirky little smile.  Just another product of middle America.  I have no idea what his ambitions were beyond graduation.. And like most his classmates, I doubt he had ever heard of a tiny country on the other side of the world called Viet Nam.

But when his country called, he didn’t shy away.

Like thousands  of others, his name is etched for eternity at the Viet Nam memorial in Washington.   Panel 16 E, line 113.  On a long ago trip to the nation’s capital I stood in silence before his name and remembered him.

As with any 4th of July, this one will be celebrated with flags and fireworks and parades and speeches by politicians.  I will remember Jackie and my daddy who was in WW 11 and his father who was in WW 1.  I will offer a prayer for each.

And whether you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, Tory, Whig or Hotentot, at this point in our history. prayers are certainly needed.  When our national “leaders” are far more concerned about self glorification than meeting the needs of their constituents, earnest, heart-felt prayer is all that will save us.  They have shown us time and again that they are simply incapable or unconcerned–of meeting our challenges.

Jackie Meacham, and more than 58,000 names etched in that wall, showed us courage.

And so I remember him this Fourth of July.

Girl’s Ranch Follow Up

Nothing I recall in recent memory has impacted this state like the news of 10 people killed in a wreck on I-65 near Greenvill3 on Saturday, June 19.  Especially devastating is the fact that eight of the victims were affiliated with the Girls’ ranch in Tallapoosa County not far from Reeltown.

Joe Windle is the recently retired county school superintendent.  He went to school at Reeltown and was principal there before becoming superintendent.  He still lives in the community and told me how this little crossroads was hurting as four of the victims attended Reeltown high school.

Jnhn Wilcox is a faithful reader of this blog and teaches at the school,  He taught some of the girls and told me that everywhere he looks, he can see their faces.

A GoFundme page was quickly set up to raise money for the ranch.  Response has been amazing.  Last time I checked 6,500 people had given more than $500,000.

Which says to me that in spite of the constant barrage of craziness coming from Washington and being passed along as “news,” the hearts of our citizens are still open when a need arises..  .

This is the country we love,  Something the 535 members of Congress can not seem to understand.



Tragedy On I-65

There is no telling how many hundreds of thousands of miles I have traveled on interstate highways across the country.  From Maine to Florida to Utah and a zillion points in between

But without a doubt, the segment I have covered most often is I-65.south of Montgomery.  I was on it Monday, June 14 coming back from Mobile where I attended a high school class reunion luncheon. Which is why when I saw this article on AL.com, my heart sank.

About 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 19 near Greenville, a wreck involving 18 vehicles took the lives of 10 people, most of them girls from the Girl’s Ranch in Tallapoosa County.  They were headed home from a trip to Gulf Shores  Most of them were students at Reeltown, where my good friend Joe Windle was once principal…

At best, life is too short.  Events like this make that all too clear.

Today Tallapoosa County is filled with broken hearts.  All we can too is offer our prayers for each and everyone of them..