Luca White blows his mom a kiss and says “byeeee!” before speeding off. That’s a pretty typical thing for a two-year-old to do, but for Luca and the Sidwell Summer GoBabyGo! community service camp, it’s something special.

Luca has Down Syndrome; because of that his muscle tone doesn’t develop like a typical kid’s. So when he goes out, he’s usually either in a stroller or in his mom Kathy’s arms. And he’s pretty tired of it.

“He’s got little cousins, and I have to go with him so he can play with them,” says Kathy. “He wants his independence.”

All that is about to change. The campers, who are going into grades 7-10, work with the charity GoBabyGo!, retrofitting Power Wheels cars to meet the needs of children ages 12 months to six years who need some sort of adaptive vehicle. That can include rewiring, adding seat belts or roll cages—and, in every case, custom decorations (Luca’s black Maserati is covered in dinosaur stickers). 

“We started by rewiring the car so the button would make it move and not the gas pedal,” says Teddy, 13, one of the campers who worked on Luca’s car; due to his muscle tone Luca wouldn’t be able to press on pedals. The car also came with a remote control so someone else can steer for Luca and accelerate if he needs a little help. Teddy came to the camp “for service hours and to help little kids and it just seemed kind of fun,” he says. “And it’s really cute.” 

Luca’s car is the 40th the camp has built since Sidwell Summer began working with GoBabyGo!; with an average of four a week, they should hit 50 by the end of the summer.

The instant Luca sees his car, his face lights up. When one of the teenagers who worked on the car puts Luca in the driver’s seat, he squeals and claps. Then one of the teens pushes on the button and the car inches forward. Luca’s smile grows. Then he figures out that he can push the button on his own and his smile, which didn’t seem it could get any bigger or brighter, does just that. 

Meanwhile a teary Kathy looks on as her son speeds—rather haphazardly—around the Lower School multipurpose room. And within the first five minutes of Luca’s ownership she’s already established one ground rule when it comes to Luca’s new ride.

“This is definitely an outside toy.”

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