- Associated Press - Saturday, December 19, 2015

COVINGTON, Ga. (AP) - If you’re looking for 11-year-old home school seventh grader Croswell “CJ” Harris, you can often find him in the basement.

Things like old cardboard boxes and duct tape always find their way to the basement too.

“We can’t throw cardboard away,” said his mother, Jackie Harris.

But from that basement, and from those materials, things like prosthetic hands for children emerge.

Yes, you read that right.

Jackie said she is always on the lookout for projects for her two children. Years ago, one of those projects was joining 4-H.

“I’m kind of like a copycat when it comes to (my sister) Lavender,” CJ said. But he wasn’t old enough to join at the time, and instead shared his idea for a service project with his sister.

After reading about the needs of the local homeless shelter in The Covington News while studying current events, CJ suggested we collect items including food, toiletries, sheets and toys for the shelter that Christmas. It’s a project Newton County 4-H continues today.

Last summer, the Harrises contacted the 4-H office to ask about starting a STEAM club. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Since September, CJ and his sister Lavender have been leading a Cloverleaf County Council once a month where fourth through sixth grade students get to build something. So far, they have made catapults, lava lamps, and an Operation-style electronics game.

CJ said the best part of teaching is when “all the kids look to me and (to see) their faces when it lights up or buzzes, or explodes!”

At home in his basement workshop, CJ’s projects have become a little more sophisticated with the addition of a 3D printer.

“I’m a junior maker. I love making stuff, and sometimes designing stuff. I saw a 3D printer once.. and I thought it was so cool that I could make 3D objects,” he said.

“(My parents) know I love making things, and I want to be a mechanical engineer when I grow up,” he said, so he shared the video with them.

Jackie said CJ’s dad, also a mechanical engineer, was immediately sold on the printer. So they did some research and purchased a basic, desktop model.

“When we found we could afford it, we were like, let’s do it!” she said.

After printing a few small objects, Jackie found out about the e-NABLE project and introduced the idea to her son.

“e-Nable is an organization that brings all the makers together. They build the hands and then distribute them across the world to little kids who need them, (those) who are born without a hand or that lost a hand,” said CJ.

Using an open source file provided by the project, CJ printed a child-sized prosthetic hand in his workshop, then mailed it off to someone who was assembling the hands for use.

It is about 30 little pieces of colorful plastic, and he said it took 13 hours to print one hand.

Then he realized 4-H could help, too.

So on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving while most students were off enjoying a break, CJ and his family were in the 4-H office assembling 2 prosthetic hands for children.

“We’re going to send it out to the e-NABLE organization,” he said. The organization decides who receives each hand and facilitates adapting it for each person.

He hopes to have other 4-H’ers help assemble hands in the future, and perhaps that a donor would assist with purchasing a used printer and supplies so that the office could continue to create the materials, and work on other projects.

“I definitely want to do something to help the community,” he said. “I think that’s what mechanical engineers really do. Because they build stuff and design stuff that will help people in their everyday life.”

I told CJ that I never imagined we’d be assembling prosthetics as a 4-H service project. In fact, I kind of doubted it was possible even after he asked.

“I think it’s pretty big, too,” he said.

But, he added, “I can handle anything.”

___

Information from: The Covington News, http://www.covnews.com/

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