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Friday December 9th

Students work to 'CATCH’ kids with disabilities who fall through cracks of toy design

UNC senior Christopher Nguyen, a Bio-Medical Engineering major, is pictured in Phillips Hall working on modifying toys through Carolina Adapts Toys for Children on Tuesday, October 4th, 2022.
Buy Photos UNC senior Christopher Nguyen, a Bio-Medical Engineering major, is pictured in Phillips Hall working on modifying toys through Carolina Adapts Toys for Children on Tuesday, October 4th, 2022.

Sophomore Katie Chai never imagined her interest in technology would lead her to the basement in Phillips Hall modifying popular children’s toys. However, that is exactly where she found herself after she joined Carolina Adapts Toys for Children, affectionately known as "CATCH." 

The service-based club at UNC was founded in 2018 by biomedical engineering students.

“What we do is modify toys for kids with disabilities to ‘catch’ the kids who fall through the cracks of mainstream toy design,” UNC senior and CATCH President Darci Anderson said. 

UNC students of all majors are welcome to join CATCH, and no prior knowledge is required. Anderson said members are taught everything they need to know — from soldering to circuitry.

“We go in and modify (the toys') internal circuitry and add an external button or basically an external actuation point, so that the toy can keep its original functionality as it was designed,” Anderson said. “But, it's more accessible for kids who maybe are in a wheelchair or they can't get down on the ground to play with the toy, so they can press the button and the toy is gonna work like it should.” 

The toys are donated to local organizations such as Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, UNC Inpatient Rehabilitation Center and Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital.

Ken Donnelly, teaching associate professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the faculty advisor for CATCH. 

“The main part of my job is educating, giving them skills and knowledge to take them into their careers. But that stuff to me is secondary to seeing them develop personally, and professionally, through helping others,” Donnelley said. 

He said it is satisfying to see that the skills he teaches are used in a practical way.

CATCH fosters an inspiring community environment, he said, as the involved students are always enthusiastic about learning and teaching.

“They're not just making modifications to these toys that other people are making, they're actually thinking about how we can innovate new ways of doing it,” Donnelly said. “Then, we can disseminate that to the other clubs that might be doing something similar around the country.” 

CATCH is part of a growing nonprofit called CATCH Inc., a nonprofit entity Anderson said is meant to help expand the club's reach beyond UNC.

Chai, who is also the public relations chairperson for the group, said participating in CATCH is a super fulfilling experience and something that has expanded her conception of what engineering can be and who engineers can help.

“This summer, I was able to go into the rehabilitation center at Atrium Health in Charlotte and hand deliver some of her toys to a girl whose muscles had atrophied," she said. "She was going through physical therapy to regain the strength in her foot and her arm. It was super rewarding, and it really meant a lot to her.”

Anderson agreed that the opportunity to modify toys for kids with disabilities through CATCH is a rewarding experience.

“It’s so fulfilling,” she said. “It’s so exciting too, because they’re enjoying it, and it’s something that we enjoy doing. So, it goes full circle.”

CATCH is accepting both monetary and toy donations. Anyone who would like to donate can do so on their website.

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