PLAINVLLE — When Sanae Green, 3, slammed the big, red button in the middle of the steering wheel on her customized knee-high Mini Cooper, the car launched forward.
Green, who is from the Bronx, was one of four children, all with conditions affecting their mobility, given a battery powered car repurposed by students from Plainville High School, the Middle School of Plainville and Central Connecticut State University.
A couple dozen students worked on the vehicles on Dec. 7 and 8, rebuilding the seats, adding padding and rope a parent can pull to operate the steering wheel from behind. They also disconnected the acceleration pedal and routed its controls to the steering wheel, since many of the children have limited use of their legs.
"Some of the kids, they've never had any mobility of their own,” said Cameron Bopp, a senior at CCSU. “So they've been relying on other people in their life. Once they actually realize how it works, you can see it on their face.”
Around a dozen CCSU students worked on the project through Go Baby Go, which helps organize car building events like this around the country.
The children experience autonomy behind that wheel, said Rosie DeFeo, a pediatric physical therapist who coordinates Go Baby Go programs in Connecticut.
“It’s the mind-body connection that I can do this myself,” she said.
Three of the cars were purchased through fundraisers at Plainville High School and CCSU. The fourth was donated by Lexi’s Journey, a nonprofit started to assist Alexis Charbonneau, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, which causes bones to fracture and break easily.
Mark Chase and David Gaignard, both teachers in the high school’s STEAM program — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — said working on the cars benefited the students as well.
“It’s so great, it’s such a (heartwarming) event and to see my students applying their skills,” Chase said.
"I think it's really important as a high schooler to see how other people live and how you can help them. This is just one way of doing it," said Jeffery Pearse, a senior at CCSU. "It's amazing, there really is no feeling to describe it.”