Dozens of students from across all three colleges at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville came together for the fifth annual Holiday Toy Hack, to modify electronic toys for children with special needs. The three-hour event took place on Nov. 19, at the new Huff Family Innovation Center in Sesquicentennial Hall. According to Dr. Hal Evensen, professor of engineering physics and Holiday Toy Hack organizer, 50 students participated and ‘hacked’ 55 toys which will be donated to area families, organizations and clinics.
“We are working with Variety - the Children’s Charity of Wisconsin,” said Evensen. “They have three Christmas parties coming up on Dec. 3. We have volunteers taking a load of toys to each of those parties. I have one student who will be taking toys to Marshfield Clinic, and I will be taking toys to Arc of East Central Iowa.”
Garrett Sprouse, a senior engineering physics major, from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, became involved with the project four years ago. He said students use soldering equipment to adapt the toys which allows children to operate the items with external switches and buttons. Once the toy is complete, it’s put back into the manufacturing box. Sprouse credits the Toy Hack with sparking his interest in the field of engineering physics.
“We ran out of toys, really, really fast – everyone was happy and grabbing toys,” he said. “It’s the idea of taking your skills and bringing them to a good cause. Last year, one of the toys I modified was a Peppa Pig toy. It went to a child who had her feet amputated and her fingers, she only had her thumbs. It gives the precedent of purpose; these kids need these toys.”
The importance of giving back is one of the reasons the event continues to grow every year. Both Sprouse and Evensen acknowledged how students of all disciplines can participate, no experience with soldering is necessary.
“The students tore into the toys. They did a great job. Some of the toys took the full three hours to modify, but they looked fabulous when they were done,” said Evensen.
Sprouse added, “What’s cool about the Toy Hack is everyone can do it. A lot of people participate who are not in the College of EMS. It’s soldering a button together; you can learn it within the period of the time.”
As Evensen now begins the distribution process, he expressed how the afternoon was an opportunity to spend time with students while impacting the community.
“I was touched that the students – who are very busy – were willing to share their time working on this project,” he said. “They may have had some apprehension about their ‘hacking’ abilities, or the time they had available to them, but they saw this as important and fun enough to do, and for that I am really grateful.”
To donate to the Holiday Toy Hack, visit www.uwplatt.edu/give and use Toy Hack Project #R1075.