Kentwood — When schools closed in March to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Ethan Vandervoord was bummed he would miss out on the remaining season of robotics with East Kentwood’s team Red Storm.
The team — with its deft droid — was gearing up to host the annual First Robotics competition at EK, then planned to head to the state finals. They had qualified for world championships and had even earned the chairman’s award, the highest honor given to FIRST Robotics Competition teams, recognizing the team that best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of the program. There was a lot of excitement followed by disappointment when the reality of the pandemic hit home.
Still, Ethan and his parents — team mentors Trista and Mark Vandervoord — knew they had to channel their robot-like tech skills in a useful way.
The family realized the need for PPE and had access to the 3D printers the team uses for robotics. They downloaded designs for face shields and ear guards and began printing. Suddenly, Ethan found his extra time due to quarantine filled quite well.
“It was definitely something to do. I was constantly sending emails, calling people, delivering face guards — stuff like that,” said Ethan, now a junior at EK and Kent Career Tech Center.
They recruited other Red Storm members to help with tasks like hole-punching face shields and writing thank-you emails to donors. Four other local robotics teams pitched in and 35 community members and families donated toward supplies for packaging, sanitizing and production. The team also received $5,000 in donated materials, and hosted a logo design competition, ultimately resulting in the Red Storm Cares: Operation Face Shield.
The nine-week project resulted in more than 10,000 pieces of PPE — 6,100 face shields and 4,400 ear guards — that were distributed in West Michigan to more than 100 organizations including hospitals, senior living homes, local businesses, public safety departments and other establishments.
“I was really glad we were able to do this,” Ethan said. “This was a good way to help out and a good use of the resources we had. It would be weird to not be able to help when you can. (FIRST Robotics’ mission) is to spread STEM in the community as much as you can, and that’s what we did here.”