“I love the Helping Hand Project. I really want to see it succeed. I want us to have the benefit in the lives of people that I see us being able to have.” -Jeff Powell
In the summer of 2014, a seven-year-old boy in North Carolina named Holden saw a news story about 3D printed prosthetics. Holden has symbrachydactyly and was born without fingers on his left hand, so he was intrigued. His parents reached out to a rehabilitative biomedical engineering professor at UNC, Dr. Richard Goldberg.
During that time, Jeff Powell was an undergraduate at University of North Carolina (UNC). He had asked his professor to keep an eye out for projects where he could explore the application of his design courses as an engineering student. Knowing of Jeff’s interest, Dr. Goldberg spoke to Jeff about the problem.
Holden’s First Device
Jeff had concerns when he went to deliver his first device to Holden. “It was an early design,” he said, “and I was new at 3D printers. The machines had limitations, and the device turned out pretty crude compared to what we can do now.”
Powell said he was worried how the device would be perceived and whether it would even work. But Holden was “so excited” to put it on, try it out, show it off to his parents, and try to lift anything he could in the room. Holden’s parents were moved with the hope that positive change is happening in the future of prosthetics.
“After seeing that great reaction, despite my worries, I fell in love. I saw the benefit the devices could have. I wanted to maximize their quality and ensure we could get them to any family who would like one of these devices,” Jeff said.
The Helping Hand Project
Jeff wanted to help other kids like Holden, so he started The Helping Hand Project, a student e-NABLE chapter in North Carolina. As president, Jeff runs the nonprofit, but he says he really acts through the four student chapters within his organization: Chapel Hill, Charlotte, North Carolina State, and Durham Tech. Each chapter has its own set of strengths, so Jeff allows them the most freedom possible to lead their chapters and pursue projects they buy into and are appropriate for their team.
Designs and Devices for Children
Jeff feels there are great designs already available online through the e-NABLE community, so he focuses on spreading awareness and create a local community to execute it. His aim is for the organization to be a reliable source for families to get new devices as their children grow. The devices are colorful and unique to the child, lightweight, comfortable, easily replaceable, and not cumbersome. “They are the best of both worlds because they’re not too metal and inorganic, but they have a bit of a cool factor, which is perfect for kids.” Today, they have delivered devices to 30 different children and participated in support for many more.
Support Events for Children with Limb Differences
The Helping Hand Project creates devices, but it also supports children with limb differences and their families. They create a support network for parents through events where children and families have a fun day centered around their differences. About 30 family members and eight children gather together for a few hours on a weekend and do activities such play kickball, have a picnic, jump in a bouncy house, play cornhole, paint easter eggs or pumpkins, have puppet shows, or go to the UNC basketball stadium to meet Ramses the mascot.
Jeff thinks it is important to show the children that there are others like them, and their differences can bring them more than just doctor’s appointments — it can bring them fun! These events give parents an opportunity to speak about questions raising their child. We also allow them to connect with volunteers there, so we can give them resources, supply new devices, and show off new projects.
Jeff’s Future at the Helping Hand Project
Jeff is headed to medical school, and he is excited to learn about patient interactions, policy, and healthcare organizations — he believes this will increase his ability to lead the Helping Hand Project. He plans to continue leading the organization through medical school and beyond, with increased support from board members, volunteers, and employees. “After all, I’m getting into medicine to work with and for the benefit of people,” Jeff says.
——————-This article is an original e-NABLE Newsletter publication——————-