Wednesday, May 07, 2008

keeping busy

I'm taking a leave from blogging for a little while.... I'm working full time now (lots and lots of hours) for my hometown paper. I went in to talk to them on April 1 and they hired me on the spot - they asked if I could start that same day. I started April 2.

Here is just a sample of what I have been writing the past two weeks. I have written many more stories - two to three a day, and up to four on Saturdays.

[photo by John Tipton - The Porterville Recorder]

One story of particular interest is one I wrote (see red link at bottom of page) about six middle school students who made a prosthetic hand for a little boy who was born without hands. The story has gained international attention. Television news picked it up and now the students have been offered a trip to Washington D.C. -- see second story below. It's all very exciting.

Future engineers head East

Odyssey: A paid trip to Maryland.

Future engineers head East
Porterville Recorder, CA - 22 hours ago
BY ESTHER AVILA Six students from the Odyssey of the Mind team from Burton Middle School received what they called “the news of a lifetime” at Monday ..
[click on link to read full story]
“We will fly them to Washington DC where they will stay in the dorms at the University of Maryland. We have arranged for them to visit the Bethesda Naval Prosthetic Research Center, the National Cancer Center for Amputee research, and three days just to see Washington DC.”

'Celebrating our History'Porterville Recorder, CA - May 5, 2008
BY ESTHER AVILA Saturday’s Cinco de Mayo parade had everything a Mexican celebration ought to have — piƱatas, red, white and green decorations, ...

Civil War era returnsPorterville Recorder, CA - May 3, 2008
BY ESTHER AVILA An era in history long gone returned Friday afternoon when more than 100 students and staff, dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers, ...

Panther band serves up traditional eveningPorterville Recorder, CA - May 2, 2008
BY ESTHER AVILA Once again the Porterville High School Panther Band, under the direction of Jim Kusserow, brought the house down during the 18th annual ...

Man continues battle with cancerPorterville Recorder, CA - May 1, 2008
BY ESTHER AVILA With National [Cancer] Survivor’s Day only a few days away, Porterville’s resident David Gong, 38, said he can say that he has survived ...

Old tires see new life in LindsayPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 30, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA LINDSAY — Thanks to the City of Lindsay, and a new $100,000 grant, an additional 10000 California tires have been diverted out of landfills ...

Police not ready to release name of homicide victimPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 30, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA LINDSAY — Authorities have not released the name of an unidentified 24-year-old white male adult whose body was found early Tuesday morning ...

Campus sees musical summer eveningPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 29, 2008
photo caption: "This was great planning and a perfect way to end the day.” --Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1047 or

Carnegie Hall to Lindsay stagePorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 29, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA LINDSAY — Richard Glazier, a world renowned musician who has performed at Carnegie Hall, will make a one-night-only appearance Saturday at ...

Making life easier for othersPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 29, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA Monday through Friday, rain or shine, Nellie England wakes up, dresses and heads to the Porterville Developmental Center to see her ...

Literacy fair ‘really cool’Porterville Recorder, CA - Apr 28, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA There was more to the day than simple reading for the hundreds of children Saturday morning attending the 9th annual Margaret J. Slattery ...

Families, friends attend festival in drovesPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 28, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA Plenty of sunshine and blue skies welcomed the approximate 25000 Porterville residents and visitors attending the 10th annual Porterville ...

Boy Scout to earn his wingsPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 28, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA A war memorial honoring local residents who died for their country is getting a much-needed facelift, thanks to an Eagle Scout candidate who ...

Bright futures ahead for Gates Millennium ScholarsPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 24, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA Two Granite Hills High School seniors have been awarded one of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships — the Gates Millennium Scholarship ...

Taking time to smell the flowersPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 24, 2008
By ESTHER AVILA Walking through some of Porterville’s most beautiful gardens will be possible from 10 am to 3 pm Saturday, May 3, during Porterville Garden ...

Banquet honors Longtime educators and volunteersPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 24, 2008By ESTHER AVILA “Every day thousands of people go to work, leaving their most precious possessions — their children — to the city’s educators,” said ...

Students give a helping handPorterville Recorder, CA - Apr 23, 2008
When it comes to having fun, 9-year-old Matthew Lane is just like any other third-grader at Burton Elementary School. He loves to ride his bicycle, hang out with friends and play video games.

But there are some obvious differences.

Matthew was born with only one leg and no hands. But thanks to six students from Burton Middle School, that has changed. The “Odyssey of the Mind” problem-solving team put their minds to work, came up with a plan for some engineering robotics and built Matthew prosthetic hands.

“I’m like a pirate,” said Matthew. “I only have one [foot] and no hands. I’ve seen a lot of doctors and they said ‘Maybe some people can make you hands.’ And these amazing kids found out a way to do it.”

Matthew said he used to write by holding a pencil, or eat by holding a utensil, between his wrist stumps.

“Now I’m practicing my writing. My hands get sweaty with the leather, but I don’t care. I hope to learn to write in cursive some day,” Matthew said. “I wondered if they could really make it and I was excited.”

The six students that made it possible were seventh-graders Nicolas Garcia, Coral Gardner, Darion Zamora, Matthew Jones and Zeng Cha, and eighth-grader, Satwant Malhi.

“Give them a problem and they will solve it. Our motto is, ‘Take any challenge and we can find a solution,’” said Hoss McNutt, the team’s advisor. “And that is what they did. We talked to him and interviewed him and we talked to his parents. They were excited to see Matt so happy.”

Matthew moved to Porterville from Pismo Beach shortly before Christmas. Teacher, Jeff Bochat, noticed the way Matthew continually held his hands together for various purposes.

“Very efficiently, I might add,” said Bochat. “I asked him if he ever got tired and he said sometimes the middle of his chest [muscles] hurt.”

That is when Bochat wondered if he might be able to help find a solution.

“The first person I thought of was Hoss McNutt. His wife works here as a teacher and I talked to her and she said I should call him.” said McNutt. “Matt’s such a wonderful kid, pretty intelligent and witty, and very outgoing. He never let the lack of hands and feet keep him down.”

Hoss presented the challenge to his “Odyssey of the Mind” team and they were anxious to start,

“We felt bad making him wait. We had hoped to give it to him earlier,” said Coral Gardner, the only girl on the team. “But we had just won [south/central valley national tournament] championships and we were getting ready for State.”

The team received help from a couple of men who were familiar with working with molds — Edwin Batch, an artist who deals with plaster casts, and Randy Krohmer, a Porterville resident who works for special effects for movies and the television industry.

After observing Matthew, a rubber urethane hand was formed for the students to work off of, said Krohmer.

“I gave the students suggestions on what they could do, basically leaving it up to the kids to use their imagination,” said Krohmer.

And that is exactly what the six students did. Molds were started in mid February. Then they used the mold to make and attach a leather sleeve to it.

“The kids learned a lot about engineering along the way,” said McNutt.

The students said they wondered if the device would work.

“I kept thinking, how will he feel when we finish,” said Zamora. “When we started the mold, he was really excited and started jumping up and down.”

The students made two attachments for Matthew’s hand — a pencil holding device and a hook.

All of the students participated in the project. Some mixed glue, others poured plaster, some cut the leather and Garcia hand sewed a herringbone stitch on the leather.

“It’s a special stitch and it had to be done right. The leather is a few centimeters thick. The hardest part was doing the side seams because it was hard to get to the right angle,” said Garcia. “I spent quite a few hours sewing. It was hard work.”

But all of their hard work paid off.

The first time Matthew strapped on the gloved device, the students surprised him with a special water-squirting device.

“He kept saying, ‘All I want to do is shoot a water gun.’ I thought, oh my gosh, we take that for granted,” said Jane Dignam, school secretary.

“He got the water gun and he was laughing and running and shooting us. We stood in a circle around him and he was so happy. He never had a trigger finger before. It is a miracle.”

The students said they are now working on a better model for Matthew. They have also been requested to make an attachment that opens and closes. The class will research and look for ideas on how to make the new contraption, while improving the original devices.

“We’re so happy with the result,” said Gardner. “But that was just the prototype. Now the real work begins.”

Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1047 or

No comments:

Post a Comment