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Toyvention: A Toy Adaptation Workshop

On a Saturday, November 12th, ninety Chattanoogans, from all over the city and with a wide range of experience levels, met at the Edney to adapt more than 200 toys for the new lending library at Signal Centers, Inc.

You may already be blown away by that sentence; I am. You also may wonder what on earth it means - Adapted? Toys? Library? Let me explain:

Toys - and play - are incredibly important to the development of a child’s brain. Toys designed for those children with physical and other developmental disabilities, however, are quite expensive. They can cost hundreds of dollars; even the least expensive, per Signal Centers’ adaptive technology expert Ezra Ryenolds, tend to be about ten times the price of the equivalent.

With a little engineering, a soldering iron and some elbow grease, however, it turns out not to be too difficult (if occasionally a little frustrating) to turn those less expensive toys into one manipulatable by children with more complicated needs. So, back to the beginning:

A Saturday morning in November, ninety volunteers - engineers, developers, teachers, students, moms, dads (including mine), techies and technophobes - gave up their day to learn how to disassemble, solder and rebuild toys. With the generous help of Fillauer, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, the UNFoundation and a host of individual donors, we raised enough money for the more than 200 toys that families will now be able to borrow from Signal Centers, Inc.

Folks, after knocking out their first toy, went through the process again and again; people who had just met started teaching one another little tricks, selecting the same toys round after round after round in order to stick together. Even the more temperamental toys - trains, airplanes and piggy banks, oh my - with their tiny soldering spots and delicate wiring offered the few experts among us a challenge.

The spirit of our Chattanooga’s Innovation District - of worlds colliding, of bubbles popped, of impact and of progress made - permeated every aspect of the day. Educators and technologists, artists and engineers, retirees and elementary students all under one roof, with the common goal of making the Gig City a better place to live for every Chattanoogan. Toyvention was a microcosm, in the best sense, of our city, organized by an equally eclectic mix of folks from the Enterprise Center, our ArtDev community and PEF.

Many kept asking what’s next, and when are we getting back together - and I already know of one teacher who is already planning another adaptation workshop at her school. The Innovation District is about more than bringing people together, though: It’s about making sure innovation within the district finds its way out, that it can make a difference for our city as a whole. Toyvention was an incredible experience, one that made me incredibly glad that this place we’re making is so open, inviting and diverse.

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