Clayton Robotics Team Uses Training To Help Local Veterans

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.

CLAYTON – 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 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 the Mason’s situation when we 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 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.”

Rex Everhart (right) shares instructions with Leigh Dement, co-coach for the all-girl robotics team, in preparation for building a disability ramp for two U.S. Army veterans.

G-Force stepped into help with manpower, or rather girlpower. The 12 members of the robotics team, which also doubles as a SWENext club, along with a handful of family members, came prepared with hammers, drills, measuring tapes, safety glasses and a determination to learn and get the job done.

For Shelby Anderson building the ramp wasn’t completely unfamiliar territory. The 15-year-old home school student had a basic understanding of tools through working with her dad on other projects. “I knew how to organize a project which made it easier to jump in and get started,” she said. “As a military kid I can appreciate the Masons’ contribution to our country. It was meaningful to provide aid as a way to honor and thank them.”

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 14-year-old G-Force member and student in the Johnston County Early College STEM program 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.

Mr. Chuck Mason, U.S. Army veteran, talks with the young ladies of G-Force Robotics. The team volunteered to build Mason and his wife a ramp for their Benson home.

For Jasmine Gutierrez, joining her daughter on the build site, meant more than just being a supportive parent. Jasmine saw how the project helped empower the girls and build confidence in their abilities. “Many girls and women think that manual labor, building things, outdoor work, or just many careers can only be done by men,” she said. “Women and girls just need a little more encouragement, or support from people to tell them and show them that they can do anything. Instead of saying they can’t do it, show them that they can. Showing these girls that they can do projects such as building a ramp like this…or being on a robotics team…this is all just the beginning of what we will show our girls what they can do.”

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.

The members of G-Force Robotics look at their work to determine the next part of the project. The team used their robotics skills to build a disability ramp in August.

“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.

“My hope is that by our team doing this we will empower other young women to step out of their comfort zone and do something bold,” said Anderson. “There’s a satisfaction of completing a project like this and knowing how much this ramp will help them.”

To make a donation email: gforce.frcrobotics@gmail.com or go to the PayPal link on their website at: https://gforcerobotics.com. Please label donations: G-Force Ramp Fund

(Contributed story)

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