Chance encounters bring FIRST Robotics program to Holland Bloorview 

Photo Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
Photo Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

Serendipity played a significant role in bringing the FIRST Robotics program to children at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. This collaboration between First Robotics Canada and Holland Bloorview makes the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) accessible to kids with disabilities…in a fun and engaging way.

The first bit of luck was a chance encounter when Julia Hanigsberg met Mark Breadner, then CEO of FIRST Robotics Canada, about 15 years ago while Julia’s son was a participant in a FIRST Lego league program. A few years later Mark visited Julia when she was a vice president at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson). He hoped to create a relationship between TMU and FIRST Robotics.

The resulting partnership included TMU’s Faculty of Engineering and the Mattamy Athletics Centre. Shortly thereafter, a second bit of magic occurred, in January 2015, when Julia joined Holland Bloorview as its president & CEO. Mark Breadner visited the hospital to learn more about the organization. The tour inspired him to propose that “a partnership between the hospital and FIRST Robotics would be fantastic.” Mark and Julia worked together with a team from FIRST Robotics, the Bloorview Research Institute and the hospital, creating an adapted FIRST Robotics program. The partnership and program were designed to spread to other organizations. The model is now successfully embedded in several of Ontario’s children-with-disabilities treatment centres.

Another lucky chance encounter brought Lynn Rampertab to Holland Bloorview as the initial robotics coordinator. Her career path may inspire Leasiders in the early stages of their careers as to how volunteering, connections and passion can influence outcomes.

In Lynn’s case, she explains, “As an enthusiastic parent introducing my Lego-loving kids to a robotics competition, I enjoyed the experience so much I committed to staying on as a volunteer and was soon hired by FIRST Robotics. Then, when the program came to Holland Bloorview as a pilot, luckily, I was on the FIRST team.

“I was a fan from the outset because of what it means to the participants, their families and its influence on building the children’s confidence, curiosity and cooperation.” Her dedication caught the attention of senior leadership and so launched her career as the robotics coordinator with the hospital, back in 2015.

Lynn explains the hospital’s approach. “During our intake process, we really take the time to meet each child, understand their uniqueness and challenges, and really adapt the program to meet those needs. Our child and family strengths-based approach encourages participants to set goals whether their interests are programming goals, or they have to build goals, or they might even have social goals … making friends with peers who share similar interests. Together we work towards goal achievement facilitated by the way we set up the program, in our classroom.”

Spring programs were set to begin April 23rd for Junior (6-10) and April 24th for Intermediate (10-14) participants.

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About Suzanne Park 60 Articles
Suzanne Park is a leadership and conversation coach and writer who enjoys bringing to the pages of Leaside Life the unique experiences and community contributions of her Leaside neighbours. Her daughter Zhen, a student at Leaside High School, is also a contributor to Leaside Life with a fresh perspective on her community.