Three-year-old Rose Marie Buescher was handed the keys to her new car on April 5, thanks to the donors of the Rotary Club of Fort Wayne.

The club worked closely with Huntington University and students on Go Baby Go Fort Wayne, a project that Audrey Bruce chose as her capstone project. Bruce, from Bloomington, completed her undergraduate work at Indiana University. She and her husband, David Bruce, now live in Fort Wayne.

The Rotarians raised enough funds to outfit five cars and modify them to fit children with special needs. The young owners took possession of their vehicles, including receiving “driver’s licenses” in a morning celebration at Plassman’s Athletic Center at Turnstone Center for Children and Adults with Disabilities in Fort Wayne.

“The students come up with their own ideas for their capstone projects,” said Ruth A. Ford, director of the Doctor of Occupational Therapy program at Huntington University. “Children with special needs enjoy play, but unfortunately they cannot play at the same level, especially if they have mobility deficits.”

Ford added that the vehicles enable them to have mobility and fill that gap when power wheelchairs are too sophisticated for young children, or when the children are growing so rapidly it just isn’t practical and affordable for parents.

“These modified children’s cars allow them to play on the playground, to be seen as normal and engage in normal play as any other children,” Ford said. “In addition, children with special needs don’t get the same opportunity for learning the pre-skills of driving. This is a great learning device.”

Parents can easily monitor their child while using these tiny vehicles. They are provided with a remote control and can self-monitor as their child develops their driving skills.

If anyone understands the effectiveness and the self-reliance these cars offer children it is Rose’s mom, Danielle, who said Rose was born with achondroplasia dwarfism, a rare condition affecting fewer than 20,000 babies born in the U.S. each year. “She has only been walking for a year,” Danielle said. “We are so excited for her because we have never found toys that she can use. Now when her friends run off and play, she gets to be out there with them.”

According to Ford, this is only the first phase of Go Baby Go for this area, with a long, promising future.

“We are working with therapists in the area, and they are helping us identify children who are appropriate,” Ford said. “Now that the momentum is going it should be no issue finding children for Go Baby Go. We are getting funding and have the expertise of OT, PT, biomedical technicians, engineers and a lot of community volunteers are stepping up to the plate.”

Donors to Go Baby Go contributed $15,000. Rotary Club of Fort Wayne contributed $13,000, including a $10,000 gift from Nagin “Nick” and Priya Shah.

“Moving around is crucial to children’s development and for exploring their environment,” Bruce said in an earlier presentation to the Rotary Club. Cost to purchase and modify each kiddie car is around $500, she said.

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