MMI, Union Pacific convert 11 toy cars for kids with mobility issues

Marlow Bluvas, 2, takes a spin around Union Pacific headquarters in her newly modified toy car.

Marlow Bluvas, 2, takes a spin around Union Pacific headquarters in her newly modified toy car.

Eleven drivers left downtown Omaha in brand-new rides last month.

No, it wasn’t a taping of “The Price Is Right.” These pint-sized drivers nabbed their new rides —  adapted toy cars to enable increased mobility — courtesy of GoBabyGo! Nebraska and volunteers from Union Pacific.

The national program outfits children with mobility issues with modified ride-on cars at no cost to families. The build event, held on April 13, was a partnership between the Munroe-Meyer Institute and Union Pacific.

About 60 volunteers built 11 cars in the lobby of Union Pacific’s downtown Omaha headquarters.

Volunteers modify toy cars for children with mobility issues in the Union Pacific lobby.

“We do two builds each year where we adapt cars for children with movement difficulties with the aim of creating more independence,” said Sara Garcia, DPT, a physical therapist at MMI and the event’s organizer. “For this build, we partnered with Union Pacific with the goal of increasing awareness of movement challenges and how we can promote inclusion and independence for children of all abilities.”

In the morning, energetic volunteers split up between 11 white folding tables, containing the cars and everything needed to safely adapt them, spread across the lobby. By early afternoon, teams were well on their way to completing modifications on the cars — a mix of red convertibles and black trucks.

Shelby Cluck loves playing with her older brother Bentley, 6, and the neighborhood kids. But the 1-year-old isn’t mobile, so she’s stuck watching, said mom Kourtnee Cluck.

Shelby Cluck, 1, test drives her modified toy car.

The new adapted toy car “means everything,” said dad Chris Cluck. “To see her move on her own, it’s going to be phenomenal.”

It did take a little encouragement from dad before she got the hang of driving. But once her new wheels were complete, Shelby zipped around in her black Ford truck, emblazoned with her name in colorful stickers.

Across the lobby, Marlow Bluvas got a boisterous round of applause from volunteers each time she powered her little car forward.

Mom Kara Bluvas learned about the program from Marlow’s physical therapist. The new ride would help Marlow, 2, keep up with her older brother at home, Mom said.

“Having her be outside and be able to play will be really exciting,” Bluvas said. “It’s awesome that they do this. I’m glad there’s things out here for kids with disabilities to allow them to be just like other kids.”

Seeing kids move on their own for the first time is rewarding, Dr. Garcia said.

Her colleagues echoed the sentiment. “That’s why we do it,” said Jamie Gehringer, PhD, professor in MMI’s Physical Therapy Department. “Volunteers get to see the real-world impact.”

For Union Pacific volunteers, it’s a chance to live the company’s mission.

“Union Pacific truly believes in Building America,” said Ashok Fichadia, assistant vice president – Technology, Customer. “We build America by moving freight across the continent, but the America we want to build includes everyone.”

Funding for the event came from an anonymous donor through the University of Nebraska Foundation. Initial funding for GoBabyGo! came from the Munroe Meyer Guild, Dr. Garcia said.

Lilah Leeder test drives her new car while family and volunteers watch.