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Engineered to Serve Pt. 2

Powerful Perspectives

On March 30, 2015, Zoe Kilgore was born. When the nurse came back into the delivery room to inform Leah, Zoe’s mom, of Zoe’s hand difference, Leah knew that it was God’s design for Zoe. She knew God had a purpose for her little girl’s hand. 

Now, four years later, we’re beginning to see that purpose unfold. 

Leah and Jeremy Kilgore are Grace College sweethearts. Leah graduated from Grace in ‘09 and Jeremy in ‘10. Leah studied Elementary Education, and Jeremy studied Sport Management. After graduating, Leah landed a job at a local Warsaw elementary school. 

When Zoe was born, the family became aware of “Lucky Fin,” an online community full of people with stories like Zoe’s from all around the world. The group led the Kilgores to the website “Enable the Future,” a nonprofit organization that provides 3D printing for prosthetic hands for individuals with a “lucky fin.” Although the idea of a prosthetic hand for Zoe was appealing to them, they didn’t want her to rely on it. So they waited.

Seizing the Opportunity

When Zoe was two, Leah and Jeremy received a phone call. It was the principal that hired Leah for her first teaching job. He knew Zoe and her situation well. He said that he was at the Optimist Club when he found an opportunity for Zoe to receive free, individualized prosthetics. If they were interested, he would pass along their contact information.

It was at that time that Leah began thinking more deeply about her school district’s mission, “enrich the lives of others.” These words rang through her mind as she was presented this opportunity for Zoe. She had a chance to serve as a pioneer of the program. She could pave the way for others like her. Leah realized that this was a golden opportunity for Zoe and their family to enrich the lives of others in the Warsaw/Winona Lake area. 

Investing in Students

The Kilgores agreed to the program, and the first run was with Trine University student’s senior projects. The preliminary hand, created during this time, worked but it was not customized to Zoe’s needs. That’s where Grace comes in.

“Grace College has taken it a step further. They have adapted her hand to do specific things that we request of them. It’s the little things that make it better, and those are the things that we get excited about. For example, Zoe being able to screw on the attachments on her own, or the ability for the thumb piece to grip,” said Jeremy.

The Kilgores agreed to a 9-week summer project with interns from their alma mater. They met with the Grace students, Natalie and Pavle, several times throughout the summer. The students would even come to their home to test the hand with the items that Zoe uses on a day to day basis. The students would play catch with Zoe, have her pick up utensils, use her hairbrush, and ride her bike. Over the summer, a special bond formed between “the engineers” (as Zoe calls them) and the Kilgore family. It wasn’t just a summer internship anymore, it was a relationship. 

“You could see the students light up with the project ideas. It became heart-related and you could see them get excited. They had a point to their mission and product. It was fun to watch them grow in their confidence over the summer,” recounted Leah. 

When asked what she thought about Natalie and Pavle, Zoe chimed in, “I love hanging out with the engineers.” Leah went on to say, “She thinks this is so cool. And we hope that other kids think it’s cool too. If it makes Zoe’s life just a little easier, that’s our goal.” 

Ripples of Impact

Leah is determined to use her platform in the public school system to make this program available for other children with limb differences; “There are plenty of 3D printers in the district. It would be a perfect opportunity to partner up with Enable and provide printing accessibility for those with limb differences in the community.”

Not only does Leah want to educate students with limb differences in their opportunities with prosthetics, but also to inform kids who don’t. Every year, when she introduces herself to her new class of kindergarteners, she pulls out a photo of her family and tells the kids about Zoe’s hand. “It’s a valuable teaching moment for kids to know every kid is different, on the inside and the outside,” said Leah.

Now, the family is starting another round with Grace College, working alongside an entire class for the semester. They already have several new projects in mind, like including an attachment for Zoe to swing a bat and a lacrosse catcher’s mitt. If you ask Zoe now which attachment is her favorite, she confidently says, “The pink one!”, and lifts her hand proudly in the air. 

Zoe’s hand is serving a purpose beyond herself. She is providing students with hands-on experience, enriching the lives of others, and paving a way for children with limb differences in the community. And if you ask Zoe about her hand, she is sure to say, “That’s how God made me, He made me special.” 

And we couldn’t agree more– Zoe Kilgore, like all of us, is engineered to serve!

To learn more about Grace’s engineering program visit https://www.grace.edu/academics/undergraduate/academic-schools-departments/sc/department-engineering/.

Know someone like Zoe? J.C. Innovations is partnering with individuals in Northern Indiana with limb differences to provide expanded capabilities by leveraging 3D printing, engineering expertise, and understanding. If you know of someone, want to partner with us, or just want to learn more, go to https://jc-innovations.com/helping-hands/ or contact Jody Claypool at J.C. Innovations.

If you haven’t already, go back and read Engineered to Serve Pt. 1. You can also find “Engineered to Serve Pt. 3” to hear from Jody Claypool, Founder of J.C. Innovations!

Click here to see WNDU’s coverage of this story.

Tagged With: Department of Engineering, School of Arts & Sciences

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