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JCECA Students Use Robotics Training to Help Local Veterans

Ask any member of G-Force Robotics what her team is about and you’re likely to hear two things: robots and community service.

This all-girl, high school FIRST Robotics Competition team started in April 2022 with a mission of inspiring and empowering young women in STEM and robotics, and making a difference in their community. On Aug. 20, 2022, they took what they’ve been learning in their robotics shop over the past few months and applied it to help a pair of local veterans gain safer access to their home.

Charles and Louise Mason both served in the U.S. Army for several years in the early 1960s. The couple met and married while stationed at the Pentagon. After their military service ended they came home to Johnston County, N.C. The couple’s Benson home has external stairs that have presented a mobility challenge over the past year. Mr. Rex Everhart, a Clayton Rotarian, came across Mason’s situation when he was asking the Johnston County Veterans Services, and Community and Senior Services of
Johnston County to help locate a veteran in need of a disability or wheelchair ramp.

Everhart, a retired business owner, has been building ramps and coordinating volunteer efforts in Johnston County for several years now. He was familiar with the ladies of G-Force Robotics through the Clayton Rotary Club and invited them to help him build a ramp for the Masons.

“There was a need to build six ramps in the area,” said Everhart, “But after learning that Mr. Mason had taken a tumble down the stairs, and that both of them were veterans, I chose this one.”

G-Force stepped into help with manpower, or rather girlpower. The 12 members of the robotics team, with one-third of them being JCECA students, came prepared with hammers, drills, measuring tapes, safety glasses and a determination to learn and get the job done.

For JCECA junior Allison Vanater, the opportunity was a chance to learn some new skills. “As a student in the STEM program, I learned about what work in the STEM field really looks like,” she said. “Yesterday was my first time ever actively working with and drilling into wood. Alongside learning how to use new tools, I learned how wood needs to be structured so that it will stay in place for a long time.” The team started at 9am and ended roughly seven hours later with the ramp nearly built to completion.
Everhart, who builds anywhere from 5-7 ramps a year, said he’s worked with other teen volunteers, but the young women on G-Force surprised him.

“It usually takes a group in this age range three to four days to finish a ramp,” said Everhart. “I’m so impressed with what these young women accomplished in just one day.”

Madeline Gutierrez, a sophomore at JCECA and a G-Force member, was surprised too. “We were all exhausted by the end of this project, but we continued to push on and get it done,” she said. “Looking at the finished ramp was just astounding to me because I've never done such a big project like that.” Gutierrez credited the team’s ability to communicate and collaborate. “We also had a lot of determination,” she added.

As part of their team’s community service commitment, all members must track their volunteer hours as part of the President’s Volunteer Service Award program. The team realizes that in order to keep a community strong, they must be willing to serve.

“It’s special to me when I get to volunteer face to face with people because I get to see the direct impact my actions have on others,” said Kaitlyn Nolte, JCECA sophomore. “I think it’s important because it becomes a full circle of building up others to create a stronger community for everyone.”

The team not only brought their determination and tools with them to the job site, but they also brought their intuition and compassion as well. After learning that the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs was not funding the ramp, they started to grow inquisitive.

Everhart explained that each ramp costs about $1000.00, but if the VA doesn’t fund it then donations from the community-at-large help pay for the lumber and materials. The Masons’ ramp would need donations from the community.

As a way to help with the Masons’ ramp and future ramp projects, G-Force offered to take donations through their 501c3 for the G-Force Ramp Fund. “We want to be able to help other Johnston County veterans and seniors,” said Sloan Mann, a Clayton High freshman. “In addition to volunteering our time to build ramps, the fund is one small way we can give back.”

The young women of G-Force will never forget what they accomplished and what they gave.

“Taking part in projects like these shows our kids the difference we can make in someone’s life just by taking a few hours out of our lives to help someone.  Just thinking that we have possibly helped prevent any future falls or injuries for this lovely couple just makes my heart happy,” said Jasmine Gutierrez, a JCECA parent.

“I think that hands-on experiences like these show young girls that if there's a will, there's always going to be a way for you to achieve your dream,” said Angelina Kwiatkowski, JCECA sophomore.

Editor’s Note: G-Force Robotics participates in the President’s Volunteer Service Award program and has logged more than 800 hours of service since April 2022.

Photo: From left to right - Angelina Kwiatkowski, Allison Vanater, Kaitlyn Nolte and Madeline Gutierrez prepare to cut lumber as part of a ramp project they built on Aug. 20, 2022 in Benson, N.C.. All four are students in the Johnston County Early College Academy STEM program and are members of G-Force Robotics.