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Extending a helping hand

Care Services Connectedness Community Positive Ageing
  • Two school-age robotics teams have been regular visitors to IRT Tarrawanna
  • COVID-19 unfortunately stopped the visits but the teams came up with another way to support IRT
  • They got involved with a project to make 3D-printed mask extenders
  • The mask extenders were gladly received by IRT employees
02 April 2021
Members of the two robotics teams, with Team Coach and Mentor Andrew Clark, who were involved in printing mask extenders for healthcare workers, including IRT employees.
“They were wonderful enough to print some with the word ‘hero’, ones with coloured hearts and some with a loop for ponytails to go through.”
Lisa Bainbridge
Lifestyle Services Manager

COVID has changed the way we go about our lives – including how groups in the community support our residents and employees.

An example of this is two school-age robotics teams, who have enjoyed regular visits to IRT Tarrawanna Aged Care Centre over the years.

Unfortunately COVID-19 stopped the visits, so they came up with other ways to support the aged care centre.

The two teams are part of Project Bucephalus, a Wollongong-based group that participates in the FIRST robotics program, an international STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) tournament for children. The FIRST LEGO League (FLL) robotics team is for nine to 16 year olds and the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) team is for high schoolers.

Team Coach and Mentor Andrew Clark says it was the FRC team that suggested helping out in some way during the pandemic.

“That’s when they got involved with the project to print 3D mask extenders,” Andrew says. “Other local teams were also involved with the project to print the mask extenders for the health service and then they did a batch for IRT.”

Andrew explains the extenders mean a face mask’s elastic goes around the extender, rather than the person’s ears, which reduces rubbing. The extenders were gladly received by IRT employees.

An example of the mask extenders (right) that were printed for healthcare workers.

Andrew says the FLL team first established the relationship with IRT Tarrawanna back in 2012. “When the FRC team formed in 2016, it joined in too.”

Each year the FLL team takes part in a competition and is given a theme to work with. For the 2012/2013 season the theme was Senior Solutions. “So we partnered with IRT Tarrawanna and the partnership never stopped,” Andrew explains.

The theme Senior Solutions was aimed at improving the lives of older people and the FLL team developed a portable chair lift which helped in everyday life.

The partnership continued in subsequent years, with the FLL team visiting the aged care centre to ask residents for their input on robot designs according to the yearly theme. Pre-COVID they consulted the residents on themes including animals, waste, nature, learning and space (which prompted discussion around the moon landing). The team would incorporate the residents’ thoughts and suggestions into their designs.

“The team got the residents’ perspectives on the theme and then the team would bring in the robot they had designed,” Andrew says.

Lifestyle Services Manager Lisa Bainbridge says there has been a longstanding relationship between IRT Tarrawanna residents and the teams. “The residents have been fascinated with the robots and viewing videos of the children competing in competitions overseas,” Lisa says.

Of the mask extenders, Lisa says Andrew got in touch to ask how they could help and he suggested the mask extenders. “They were wonderful enough to print some with the word ‘hero’, ones with coloured hearts and some with a loop for ponytails to go through,” she says.

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