A Different Kind of Toy Story

I was awakened this morning as my box was jostled out of the corner. Could this be the day? I noticed that I was piled on a cart with a lot of other toys so all indications were a resounding “Yes”. The van we were loaded into pulled up to the Kalahari Conference Center. Something secret must be going on…they just placed a blanket over the cart. This is it, they just handed me to an eager…wait…adult??? Hey why are they taking me apart? What’s happening here? (to be continued…)

Ahh, CodeMash. For the last ten years,  developers have descended on the Kalahari in Sandusky, Ohio in the dead of winter. What better way to beat the winter blues that to go to a water park when it’s freezing cold outside? Developers attend sessions covering every modern development stack, soft skills and even sessions on building hardware hacks.

But the great content doesn’t end at the end of the day. Evening activities provide ample opportunities to network and learn new stuff. It could range from playing board games to jamming with a few fellow musicians. It might be finding time to get on the 3D printers to going to the pool.

This year, we did something different. At CodeMash, it’s always about “by the community…for the community.” Our mission at Microsoft is to “Empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This year, Microsoft partnered with some students from the Ohio State University to put on a workshop for attendees to rebuild toys for children with disabilities.

More than 150 people showed up to alter the “off-the-shelf” electronic toys. The process starts by carefully unboxing the toy so that later it can be repackaged like new. Next, there is playing with the toy long enough to find the main trigger of activity. At this point, the toy is carefully disassembled to find the electronics or buttons that trigger the activity. Once these components are found, a single wire is used to probe the circuit to find the part of the circuit to be “bridged” with an electronic adapter. Once the bridge is located, a standard adapter is soldered in place and tested. The toy is then reassembled and repackaged to be given to a child with needs.

On this cold night in January, the CodeMash group was able to rebuild more than 60 toys to be donated to Katelyn’s Kloset. This 501(c)3 organization provides a library of adapted toys for interactive play and modified power wheels devices for mobility to hundreds of children across Central Ohio. Our gift to them was able to help them get play adapted toys into the hands of more than 25 families.

This morning, the laughter and giggles caught my attention as I peered out from behind the other toys. It was when the volunteer picked me up and plugged in the capability switch that I learned I was to be a special toy for a very special child. When Elliot pressed  his special button, I lit up like a string of lights…but his face lit up like the Sun. I was sure he had found a friend in me.