Go Baby Go! offers cool wheels and big smiles

Rachel (Vasilko) Heckman ‘13 | 05/09/2024


Go Baby Go!

This Interdisciplinary, community-engaged program benefits children with disabilities and offers hands-on experience for PT, OT, and Engineering students.  Above: Quincy comes in for a test fit so students can make sure his vehicle matchings his requirements.

It is often stated that play is the primary occupation of children. It is through play and exploration that children interact with their peers and their environment, taking in vast amounts of information about the world around them.

“And you can’t go wrong with kids and really cool power wheels,” said Dr. Cassandra Movinsky, clinical assistant professor of physical therapy at Ƶ Francis.

Through the Go Baby Go program at the University, children with mobility disabilities are given more of a chance to just be a kid – to play and socialize with their siblings, cousins, and friends more easily and in a fun way. The combined efforts of physical therapy, occupational, therapy and engineering students provide the children with a modified power wheels vehicle to fit their individual needs and give them the increased independence to help them thrive. 

Go Baby Go at SFU

Originally founded as part of a research project at the University of Delaware in 2012, the Go Baby Go program has been adopted by more than 40 schools and service groups around the world. The mission of this pediatric mobility and sociability program is to make children’s playtime more inclusive and provide additional social opportunities for young children with disabilities and limitations.

“Independent mobility has so many cognitive, social, motor, language, and other developmental benefits in young children, as it gives them active control over exploring their environment,” said Dr. Julie Nagle, assistant professor of occupational therapy at Ƶ Francis. “There are no mobility toys like this out on the market.”

“Independent mobility has so many cognitive, social, motor, language, and other developmental benefits in young children, as it gives them active control over exploring their environment." Dr. Julie Nagle

In the Fall of 2023, Movinsky, Nagle, and Bro. Marius Strom, a laboratory instructor in the engineering department, wanted to get the program back up and running in Loretto again after it had been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They began soliciting sponsors, raising funds, and searching for children in need. In spring 2024, they began to get their students involved through classes and other volunteer opportunities. While the physical therapy and occupational therapy students evaluate each child and create a report about the child’s individual needs, the engineering students then modify the adaptive vehicle for each child, and it is presented at the end of the semester.

This academic year, the group has completed six modified vehicles for local children, including a purple, Trolls-themed Jeep for four-year-old Ava Koehle, who works closely with the occupational therapy department on other therapy treatments year-round. As a medically complex child born with a heart defect, she did not learn to walk independently until this past year, and she still tires easily.

“Ava loves to be outside, and this will give her more mobility in the summer so she can play with her siblings and her cousins,” said Brittany Koehle ’12, Ava’s mom. “Cardiac kids do tire easily, so this will also help conserve some of her energy.”

“Being in something more age appropriate, rather than a stroller, will help her peers see her as a peer instead of as a baby,” added Nagle.

“Interdisciplinary and Interpersonal”

Helping children like Ava achieve new levels of independence is what this program is all about, and watching the children’s faces light up when they find the pedal for the first time makes the students want to work even harder to make the vehicle the best they can for each child.

“This isn’t just a class for me anymore. It’s about helping a family out, so I want to do the best for them,” said Isabel Lumley, a junior engineering and chemistry double major. “I am emotionally invested in the family, and I just want to make a little kid happy and improve her quality of life.”

“It pulls at the heart strings watching Ava playing with the car; it makes us want to make it better for her,” Lumley added.

While the goal of Go Baby Go is to boost the confidence and sense of independence for children with disabilities, it is doing the same for the students doing the work. They are gaining valuable hands-on experience in their field while also learning to work together across disciplines to achieve the same goal.

“The engineering students have a unique opportunity to be intertwined with the end user. Seeing the person behind the work they are doing challenges them to keep that person in mind while working,” said Bro. Marius. “Engineering can be just as much of a helping profession as the traditional ones – just done in a different way.”

 “Engineering can be just as much of a helping profession as the traditional ones – just done in a different way,” Bro. Marius Strom

For both the physical therapy and occupational therapy students, the program gives them the chance to talk with children and parents in a more clinical setting and put into practice what they have already learned in the classroom. They are also challenged with the task of translating their clinical reports into terms that can be understood by the engineering students doing the modifications.

“It teaches the students how to work together, especially when you throw engineering into the mix it creates a whole new layer of communication,” Movinsky said. “[Physical therapy and occupational therapy] students also learn to talk with parents at the treatment level about their children and about their special needs. So, it’s not only interdisciplinary, but interpersonal as well.”

"It teaches the students how to work together, especially when you throw engineering into the mix it creates a whole new layer of communication," Dr. Cassandra Movinsky 

With the success of Go Baby Go at Ƶ Francis, Movinsky, Nagle, and Bro. Marius hope they will be able to keep it going for many years to come. Funded through sponsorships and donations, the modified vehicles will never cost anything for the families who benefit. Applications will open each fall and evaluations will be done so work on the vehicles can begin at the start of each spring semester. They will be presented to the families in May.

“I am so honored to be a part of this team that is making this possible for these kids,” said Kayla DeHetre, a fourth-year occupational therapy student. “I can’t wait to see them in their cars!”

Go Baby Go! Pick Up Day

On May 8, 2024 families gathered with the OT, PT, and Engineering students, along with Brother Marius Strom, Dr. Casey Movinsky, Dr. Julie Nagle, and Dr. Brittany Kennedy at the SFU Go Baby Go! Pick-Up Party! That is where the cars were officially unveiled and students showcased their teamwork and shared in the smiles of the children and their families.

Children picking up their cars: Quincy, Axel, Dawson, Octavian, Ava, Fitzgerald, and Harrison

Sponsors: Robindale Energy, Seward Generation, Colver Green Energy, Ebensburg Power Company, Carbon Direct, Anna's Consulting Forestry, Made of Stele, Engle Rentals, H.F. Lenz Company, Karen Sroka, SFU Student OT Organization (SOTA) Herb and Jackie Anderson, and Lee & Cathy Guyer.

Follow Go Baby Go at SFU

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Major congratulations go out to the Go-Baby-Go team here at SFU for being honored with one of  the university's  "Francis the Builder Award" for 2024. Congrats go out to:

  • Dr. Casey Movinsky - Physical Therapy
  • Br. Marius Strom, TOR - Engineering
  • Dr. Julie Nagle - Occupational Therapy
  • Dr. Brittany Kennedy - Physical Therapy
  • All the PT, OT, and Engineering students for all of their work to make this program a success!