When Volunteering leads to Innovation: Engineering a Difference

Mar 14 2022

When Volunteering leads to Innovation: Engineering a Difference

Volunteering is an essential piece of The Arc Westchester, as it provides an opportunity for individuals who we support to engage with members of the larger Westchester community. More so, it provides a chance to educate, inform and form real meaningful connections. A phenomenal example of this is our latest community collaboration with the Leffell School, located in Hartsdale NY.

Back in December of last year, seniors of the Leffell School’s engineering program approached The Arc Westchester and proposed a volunteer opportunity that would see the group design and build a device that could assist an individual with physical limitations. To start, the group: Ezra Feilbogen, Alex Gitnik, Ryan Hirsch, Avi Katzen, Brandon King, Talia Raich, and Drew Wilenzick got in contact with Todd Bazzini, Director of Volunteer Services and Fund Development.  “We were tasked with finding someone with a physical disability we could aid through our engineering knowledge. After researching some organizations, we found Arc Westchester and saw all the amazing work that they do. We reached out to see if there is someone who they support who could fit into this project” said Drew Wilenzick, one of the seniors and point person for the project.

Every year,  30-40 high school seniors from The Leffell School Engineering and Entrepreneurship Program participate in The TOM (Tikkum Olam Makers) competition event, which the group is currently participating in. The Hebrew phrase meaning is  “repairing the world”. The event charges students with seeking out a local person with disabilities to understand a challenge that the person faces in daily life. Working together with the individual, who they refer to as “Need-Knowers”, the teams then go on to design and fabricate a new product that will be useful in overcoming this challenge.

Upon meeting Grimmy, an individual in our Choices Program, the group worked on creating a device that could assist him with everyday activities like drawing. To do this, the group utilized a  3-D printer, velcro, and magnets. This new device allowed Grimmy, who has difficulty at times with gripping items, to do so comfortably. Furthermore, this allows him to finely control these objects, and hold them securely using the team’s device.

“Through volunteering with The Arc Westchester, we have taken a few things away. First, we learned how great it feels to help others and give back to the community. Every time we met with Grimmy, he had such a joyful look and was so excited that we were building something that would make his life easier.

We also learned that you can use your skills and passions to give back, and it can be a lot of fun. This project took something that our entire team enjoyed, engineering and the design process, and allowed us to apply that passion to help Grimmy.

This made the project all the more enjoyable and meaningful.” said Wilenzick.

Pictured from Left to Right: Grimmy, Drew Wilenzick, and Avi Katzen

The Arc Westchester applauds this inspiring group of students, and is excited to continue this wonderful connection to ensure more volunteering opportunities like this occur in the future!

Last week, the group entered their prototype into their competition, and will visit The Arc Westchester’s Hawthorne location this week, to deliver the final version of the device to Grimmy! Stay tuned for more updates and photos to come!


The Arc Westchester is excited to report that the team from The Leffell School have won an award in the TOM Abraham Accords Open Innovation Challenge (tomchallenge.org)! Winning the award for “Best Documentation”, and a prize of $1000!

The team beat out 70 teams in 14 countries and 35 universities across the globe. The young students were the only were the only non-university team that won any award, and the only high school team that participated.

The team has announced that they are donating the entirety of their prize winnings to The Arc Westchester. “We would be honored to donate this money to the Arc Westchester. We love your mission, and think it would be put to great use at the Arc. We also plan to enter the product in another competition — let’s see if we go 2-for-2!!”, said Drew Wilenzick.

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