By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.– While the world robotics championship was taking place last week, three members of Metal Muscle Robotics were receiving the highest honors on a local stage.
Jacob Donders, Sage Hallberg and Tyler Solo were the recipients of the Gold Star Award during the 29th Annual Youth Recognition Night April 28, an event that honored 154 students total from within the Brandon School District. Students are nominated for volunteer efforts and/or overcoming personal challenges.
John Wolfert, who leads the Metal Muscle Robotics team, nominated Donders, Hallberg and Solo for the more than 300 volunteer hours they each contributed, including mentoring younger students in robotics, as well as community service work including raking leaves for senior citizens, picking up trash along I-75, and collecting donations for the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots.
“The opportunity to recognize these students is difficult for them, because they are humble and shy, but it goes beyond all the hours they donate and help,” said Wolfert. “We try to develop in the kids that its important to give back to the community that gives to you.”
Wolfert praised Donders as a leader, teaching about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education to younger students and even adults, teaching both how to program. Solo was an innovation teacher, he said, demonstrating cnc routing and milling to students and how to take advantage of newer technology. And Hallberg had his own lessons to impart, as well as challenges to overcome.
Wolfert notes Hallberg has Asperger Syndrome, on the autism spectrum. He would sit at a desk in the corner, sometimes rocking back and forth when he first joined the team three years ago.
Wolfert remembers early on that Hallberg was asked to drill holes for a robot. A short time later, he came into the room where Wolfert was doing administrative work and then froze. When Wolfert turned around and said his name, three times, without an answer. He then walked over and asked, “Sage, you OK?” to which Hallberg stuttered in response, “Mr. Wolfert, I think I made a mistake, I drilled the holes wrong and I don’t think it will work.”
Wolfert took him to another mentor that showed him it would still work. It was that acceptance instead of ostracism that allowed Hallberg, who had difficulty with socialization and communication that allowed him to grow.
“It’s just being with a group of kids that would accept him,” said Wolfert, who adds that this year, Hallberg gave a presentation about the team to judges this year and did the best job, memorizing the script and dressing in suit, tie and tophat. “You wouldn’t know him from when he came on the team three years ago and now he’s going to college.”
The other students at Youth Recognition Night all appear to be making a bright future for themselves and others as well, honored for community efforts in Rocking and Raking, Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, working at the library, and helping those less fortunate.
“Each year, the amount of children that are volunteering their time and efforts are making our community better,” said Fran Hotchkiss, Youth Recognition Night chairperson. “My favorite African proverb is, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ I think the students in this community, they accomplish so much together.”