Young Makers Community 3D Printing Initiative (2013–2017)

“It’s not about making cheap plastic parts. That’s the first thing I tell people about 3D printing, it’s about being able to come up with a vision and then realize that vision in some concrete way. And the most important part of that process is learning to fail.” — Tom Meeks, 3D Printing Instructor, YouthQuest Foundation

With those words, Tom Meeks/YouthQuest Foundation inspired me to launch in 2013 a project to introduce desktop 3D printing to the Ottawa community. The YouthQuest program convinced me that 3D printing offered youth not only the potential of developing technical and creative skills for the 21st century but perhaps more importantly, life skills such as resourcefulness, team work and self-efficacy. And that’s how a four-year volunteer-driven community initiative got started!

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The first 3D printer acquired by our fledgling Young Makers initiative was a “Printrbot Plus” (pictured above) funded by a handful of private donors (Ottawa tech company founders) who also shared the vision to introduce 3D printing technology to youth in disadvantaged communities. The 3D printer was eventually donated in April 2013 to the wonderful Door Youth Centre on Somerset St. West in Ottawa. I am especially grateful to Malik Ayass (Executive Director, The Door Youth Centre) who was willing to take a chance on this project and 3D printing guru Aaron Ramsay who volunteered many hours training the enthusiastic youth in mastering the technique of 3D printing (see image below).

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1st Young Maker 3D Printer unveiled at The Door Youth Centre (April 2013)

The initial reception of the first 3D printer at The Door Youth Centre encouraged me to look at the potential of acquiring a second 3D printer that would be used for pop-up style events at local libraries, schools and community centres. A “community” 3D printer could thus serve the purpose of introducing the technology to a wider cross-section of the general public. Teaming up with local entrepreneurs Manu Sharma and Obaid Ahmed we designed and ran a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo that raised sufficient funds from close to 100 donors to acquire a Makerbot Replicator 2 and supplies.

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Celebrating our crowdfunding campaign donors!

Over a period of eighteen months the Young Makers Community 3D Printer visited some 30+ libraries in the Ottawa Public Library system and in the Ottawa Valley, a dozen or more schools in both the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, the Ottawa Catholic School Board, private schools and community centres including Boys & Girls Club and those affiliated with the Ottawa Coalition of Community Houses.

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Community 3D Printer generating lots of curiosity at the Carlingwood Branch, Ottawa Public Library
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Community 3D Printer at Churchill Alternative School, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
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Community 3D Printer at the Morrison Gardens Community House

It was soon apparent from the community 3D printing road show that enthusiasm for this new technology was building and several groups inquired about the possibility of “borrowing” the Makerbot printer for longer periods than the introductory pop-up demonstrations. In view of this hitherto “pent-up” demand, Young Makers approached TD Canada Trust in March 2014 to help support the purchase of a third 3D printer that would serve as a “loaner”. We were grateful to TD Canada Trust in approving a community grant that permitted us to acquire another Makerbot Replicator 2. Thereafter, organizations previously engaged during our “pop-up” demonstrations could “loan” the 3D printer for additional experimenting and discovery such as Maker Junior’s visit to libraries in Bruce and Grey counties in Ontario.

During this time, I decided to establish a fund at the Community Foundation of Ottawa called “Young Makers Fund” to support youth centres/youth at-risk programs/schools that wished to raise money to buy their own 3D printers. Inspired by a program entitled Makerbot Academy (in partnership with Donors Choose) which helped schools raise funds to buy 3D printers, the Young Makers fund could now award small grants to help Ottawa-based organizations do likewise.

Though the Young Makers Community 3D Printing initiative generated a significant amount of outreach (over 1,000 “visitors” in the libraries alone), it is the stories of individuals touched by the program that make it all worthwhile. Two people whose life paths intersected as a result of Young Makers are Kristina Djukic and Nick McGrath (pictured below).

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Kristina Djukic presenting Nick McGrath with $1,000 cheque at The Door Youth Centre

Nick McGrath was among the first youth at The Door Youth Centre to take an active interest in the Young Makers donated 3D printer. By his own admission Nick believed that his engagement with 3D printing helped turn his life around at a time when he was most vulnerable and at-risk for his future. Nick graduated as a “client” of The Door Youth Centre and became a youth worker helping other vulnerable youth and sharing his 3D printing knowledge. In recognition of his generosity and dedication “to the cause” Nick was presented with a $1,000 cheque in 2016.

Kristina Djukic (pictured below), a recent graduate of the mechanical engineering program at the University of Ottawa, helped take Young Makers to a new level through her selfless desire to help others.

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Kristina Djukic (left) at the Young Makers booth, 2016 Ottawa Maker Faire

Combining her strong technical skills and empathetic style of leadership, Kristina launched a unique program called “Give Us a Hand” to fabricate pre-designed 3D printed prosthetic hands at The Door Youth Centre and ship the final product to people in need of low-cost functional prosthetic hands. The following video produced by Accessible Media Inc. does an excellent job covering this amazing project.

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3D printed prosthetic hand made at The Door Youth Centre

As the Young Makers program winds down we are delighted to share news that the Makerbot “Replicator 2” 3D printers have been donated to The Door Youth Centre and Blue Sky School (an exciting “Experimental Prototype School of Tomorrow”), respectively. Our hope is that the Young Maker story inspires others to pursue similar initiatives in their communities and achieve successes we can only imagine.

There are specific individuals whose engagement with the Young Makers initiative was critical such as Jeff Ross, Aaron Ramsey, Parm Gill, Mark Gelsomino, Dorothy Jeffreys, Manu Sharma, Obaid Ahmed, Kristina Djukic, Malik Ayass, Nick McGrath, Jocelyn Courneya, Melina Kokkinos, Miriam Saslove, Trista Lynch-Black, Alison Evans Adnani, Nish Patel, Naomi Morisawa De Koven, Jessica McNeil, Sonia Riahi, Vishv Sharma, Justine Boudreau, Tessa Karunakaran, Martin Lavoie, Christopher Luesby, Shauna Pollock and Giuseppe Lepore! We would also like to thank all of our individual and corporate donors and supporters who stepped up to make this journey possible.

Written by

Aletheia Guild

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