- Associated Press - Saturday, April 1, 2017

CLARKSVILLE, Iowa (AP) - Clarksville High School industrial technology students are helping to preserve memories of sick and terminally ill patients at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

The school’s two product development classes are traveling to the Iowa City hospital Tuesday to deliver 13 “memory boxes” students designed and built, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (https://bit.ly/2ngwre1 ) reported. They are given to families and siblings of hospitalized children. This is the second year classes have made the boxes.

“It kind of put a new spin on this project last year,” said Ralph Longus, a teacher. “The thing I wanted the kids to get out of it was, ‘Hey, you’re part of a bigger community.’ It’s more than just an industrial technology project.”

Ranging in size from seven inches square to 15 inches by 10 inches, the wooden boxes are made of soft maple. Students carefully sanded their creations, but used no stain or varnish. They have a hinged cover and a magnetic latch.

“It’s definitely very unique,” said Kathy Jo Whiteside, certified child life specialist at the hospital. “We use them in a couple different ways.”

Some of the boxes are given to brothers and sisters of children who are not expected to survive, so they can place items in it to better remember their sibling. In other cases, the hospital makes plaster molds of the hands of a child who dies and presents them to the families in the boxes.

“The molds show the wrinkles on the hands and the fingernails,” Whiteside said. “They’re very realistic. So, to have them in those beautiful wooden boxes, it makes it nicer to present those to them.”

Sophomore Chris Behrends said knowing the boxes were going to children at the hospital affected his mindset in approaching the project. “It made it feel like we had to make it perfectly and handle it with more care,” he explained.

Students were divided into groups that worked in an assembly line style on sawing the wood, gluing the frame, drilling and adding the latch or hinges. “We all did the same thing on every box,” Behrends said.

Initially, though, senior Tre Smith said the students talked about any possible changes from last year, came up with dimensions for the boxes and figured out how much lumber was needed. “The whole brainstorming process took a couple days,” he said.

“We did a lot of design work,” said Longus, using a computer aided design program. “We changed it a little bit” from the first time. One of those changes was the materials, which had been poplar wood last year.

The project also benefited from the generosity of Hanawalt & Son Lumber in Ionia. The owner heard about what the class was doing when Longus went to pick up additional materials.

“They donated $100 worth of materials to help us build them,” Longus said. “We’ve had some pretty nice local support that way.”

The boxes were the first of three projects the classes will work on this semester. Students are now in the process of designing a portable kiosk for a local four-day outdoor farm show.

Longus formerly taught in the Waterloo Community Schools for 33 years. He was recruited to work for the Clarksville district in the fall of 2015 following his retirement from Waterloo Schools three years earlier.

The Waterloo resident was on Christmas break during his first year at Clarksville when he came up with the idea of contacting the children’s hospital to see if there was a project the class could do for them.

While thinking about the class, he said, “I was shoveling snow. The ambulance went by.” That got him wondering about the hospital.

After a call and a series of emails, the hospital came up with the memory box project. Students in last year’s classes also delivered their boxes to Iowa City. “It was just a really big deal, a way bigger deal than I thought it would be,” Longus said.

Their visit to the hospital also will involve a tour and presentation on the type of jobs available there. “They kind of go over different careers that are within the hospital,” said Longus, from doctors and nurses to plumbers and electricians. For the hospital, it’s a chance to show the students some gratitude for their donation.

“We’re very grateful and appreciative that these young people are doing something to help others,” Whiteside said. “That’s always very refreshing.”


Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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