Engineering students offer independence to mobility-challenged community member
April 4, 2017   //   By:   //   Real-world Learning, Service

Elizabethtown College Social Work student Rocco Hladney with Merl and his new scooter.

Every couple of days a group of engineering students huddled over a personal scooter, searching for a clue to why it wasn’t working. They had tasked themselves with getting the unit running and usable to present to a young Elizabethtown community man who lives with mobility issues.

There were always three or four of them, tooling over the unit, said Mark Gatti, manager of engineering laboratories at Elizabethtown College. It was in the spirit of the College’s ‘educate to serve’ maxim when they asked for space to do the work. “Our engineering students think about the motto,” Gatti said. “It had nothing to do with a class. It was totally on their own.”

Though the process took several months, the students persevered. “I was asked to not do the work for them but point them in the right direction,” said Gatti. So he gave them the space and tools and set them loose.

“When it came in, it didn’t work,” he said. “The client had attempted to try to revive it” but had been unsuccessful. The students, he said, took a few things apart, pulled the batteries out to see if they were viable and made sure the charging system was working properly.

Our engineering students think about the motto.”

This was actually the second scooter they had attempted to fix. The first came in last year–they were donated to Elizabethtown Community Housing and Outreach Services (ECHOS) for clients with physical challenges — with problems in the electric board. This posed a liability issue the School didn’t want to worry about, Gatti said, so the first scooter was sidelined.

Merl, the scooter’s recipient, is in his mid-30s. He deals with physical pain on a daily basis due to cerebral palsy. “Walking,” said Janice Davis, administrative assistant in the College’s Biology Department, and founder of the winter shelter in Elizabethtown “is especially uncomfortable, and it’s getting progressively worse.

Last year, Merl was a client of the Elizabethtown winter shelter and, though he is now living independently, some of his needs are still addressed by Elizabethtown Community Housing and Outreach Services (ECHOS).

“The first thought when we heard about Merl is how do we get E-town students involved?” said Peggy McFarland, professor of social work.

Social work student Rocco Hladney stepped up. “It’s one of his responsibilities to work with Merl,” she said. Hladney is working in an internship with ECHOS. “It’s a good project to reach out. The scooter would really help with independence.”

After the students addressed the mechanical problems, and a professor came forward with money to purchase a viable battery, the scooter was ready for delivery for Merl.

“I’ve seen him cutting through town on it,” Davis said. “Knowing his personality, it is important to him to have more mobility to get into town.” The physical pain of walking was too much. “He is joyful.”

“I can’t say enough how proud I am of the college, the students and the volunteers who work with the program and their willingness, like this, to go the extra mile to help clients’ needs,” she said.

“Nothing is too big to overcome.”

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.