rayne mason-smith

In an engineering solution worthy of MacGyver, a gold stress ball, nuts, bolts, wood, metal, Velcro, and, of course, duct tape are changing a little girl's life.

"It's kind of like a prosthetic, and it just attaches on her wrist...and it helps her to keep the bow straight, and it works with the way that she moves her arm, so it translates to the way that a person without disabilities would be able to move their arm to play the viola," said Concord High School senior Hannah Kennedy.

The invention was handmade by Kennedy and two other Concord High School students, Antonio Carvalho and Julia Weeks, with the intention of helping 9-year-old Rayne Mason-Smith, who has cerebral palsy, participate in orchestra at Brandywine School District's Lanchashire Elementary School.

"She was having difficulty grabbing the bow. [What we made] would help her play the viola better, and it would help her fit in more in her school," said Carvalho. "It just seemed really important to us that we could help her, and it just seemed like something easy we could accomplish."

The trio takes real-world problems and uses their classroom knowledge to solve them, making the lives of people with disabilities easier.

They've created a number of prototypes with which Rayne has conducted trial runs once a week on Mondays, until they found the perfect fit. In a small room a bit larger than a closet, Carvalho guided Rayne as she put on the device, offering her tips to get her more comfortable.

"Try to get a nice long stroke, as long as you can," instructed Carvalho.

Rayne, who didn't say much, had a small smile as she got the hang of the contraption about 10 minutes into her fitting. She asked for a bigger stress ball--and one that was pink, her favorite color.

"If she doesn't like it, she tells us, and we make it better, which is great because we need to know," said Weeks.

Now, they're closest to the final product, and it's one that could be replicated easily and cheaply for other students, costing only a few dollars in supplies and access to a 3D printer.

"It's really inspiring to me, because you can tell that she was obviously happier when she can play the notes, and she feels more included...everyone else is now just starting to play the bow and now she can start to play the bow with everyone else too," said Kennedy.

None of the students on the team had ever played a string instrument, so they received guidance from Rayne's orchestra teacher Nicole Veater along the way. With seven years of teaching under her belt, Veater she's never seen such a unique collaboration in any school.

"This is by far the coolest thing that I've ever seen happen," she said. "It's so rewarding to be able to help Rayne...Rayne was talking about how she often gets stared at because she walks a little differently, and she's not included in everything, and is this is making a huge difference in her life, and she feels like a superstar," said Veater.

After they're done this project, the engineering students will move onto the next project, and they want Delawareans to submit ideas at HelpMeBSD