RePlay for Kids
RePlay for Kids makes volunteering easy. By bringing the work to their volunteers, RePlay for Kids is able to repair and adapt mainstream toys for children with disabilities.
RePlay for Kids Makes Volunteering Easy
RePlay for Kids is a volunteer-run organization that hosts workshops where volunteers repair and adapt toys used by agencies that serve kids with disabilities. Since the adapt/repair service is free of charge, the program helps these agencies and organizations save money from having to replace the toys.
For adaptation, RePlay takes mainstream battery-operated toys and modifies them for children with disabilities. “Something like a squeeze-belly toy, a disabled child may not be able to use that,” Bill Memberg, RePlay’s president, explained. “So we’ll use a head switch or sip/puff switch.”
Since repairs like these require some technical proficiency, these workshops are populated primarily of students enrolled in an engineering degree program, alumni of engineering programs, and occasionally a few engineering professors. However, there is a range of work to be completed, some of which does not require so much technical skill. “The students will often bring their friends that aren’t engineering students,” said Memberg. “Some repairs are very easy—some of the plush toys need to be sown up or the batteries changed.”
For each workshop, RePlay for Kids travels to the offices of their partnering organization with toolkits and then conducts a 10-minute orientation. “We give the orientation and we show people who have no technical skills how to adapt a toy,” Memberg explained. “We might have a group of accountants whose eyes are wide open that say they can’t do it, but they learn very quickly by the end of the session. So they bring other people back and they see that there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Each workshop lasts about 2-3 hours. Some of their partner organizations include Ernst and Young, NASA, Key Bank, Deloitte, Kiwana’s groups, universities; fraternities and sororities as well as other nonprofits.
Because volunteers are so crucial to RePlay’s operations, the organization has found several practices effective for building and maintaining participants. To maintain their volunteer base they have assembled an email list of people who are interested in the workshops, which they use to send out notices about upcoming workshops. Overtime, they have gradually increased their volunteer base through the email list and through word-of-mouth. Memberg estimates that about half of their volunteers are returning participants. Moreover, they have been able to retain volunteers because of the relationships they have with participating institutions. As a result, their partners invite them back year after year. And because they bring the work to the volunteers, it is easy for professionals and college students to participate without having to take off too much time.
Over the past seven years RePlay has conducted 179 workshops and repaired or adapted 3,865 toys. In 2012 using 851 volunteers they conducted 41 workshops and adapted 657 toys and repaired 173 for a total of 830 toys. They have 26 partner agencies in nine Ohio counties. RePlay for Kids estimates they have saved their partner agencies over $223,000 over the last seven years.