“We already have two seventh graders who are homebound and could benefit from using the robot,” said Principal Joanie Dobbs. “There’s also a kindergarten student who could use it.”
School officials are also planning on using the robot for other purposes, such as teleconferencing with parents who cannot otherwise attend parent-teacher conference in person.
“There will be a lot of opportunities for us to use the robot,” Dobbs said. “We are grateful to N1 Critical for the donation.”
The donation spawned out of an idea from Max Ellsworth, the teenage son of N1 Critical CEO Nate Ellsworth.
Max’s best friend Matt Winter was just 13 when he lost his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a very rare type of cancerous tumor that grows in bones and surrounding soft tissues.
Diagnosed in May 2014, Matt won the first round of 22 chemotherapy treatments, but had his entire tibia bone removed. That’s where the cancer had started.
He was a year into remission when the cancer had come back. It was May 2017, the end of his 7th grade year. Doctors gave him two weeks. He fought hard, and battled the spreading cancer until he passed Nov. 12, 2017.
Matt never got the chance to make it into the 8th grade with his buddy Max at JC McKenna Middle School in Evansville, about 20 miles from N1 Critical’s headquarters. He was bedridden. In a hospital. Far from friends. Isolated. Feeling alone.
“He lost touch with a lot of kids, a lot of his friends, when he was sick,” said his mom Rene Wieloch.
Max hadn’t ever lost touch with Matt and wished the two had spent more time together, including while in school, before Matt’s passing.
Max realized that Nate’s own Telepepresence robot — which he used to drive around the office and have fun “peeking” in on his co-workers down the hall — could have been put to good use in his school.
Max said that if his buddy Matt had one of the mobile robots, he could have still experienced school, at least by seeing and conversing with his friends, classmates and teachers via the two-way video conferencing on the robot’s attached iPad.
“Matt was really into technology,” Rene said. “He would have loved that.”
Nate quickly realized Max was onto something.
“It was a great idea, and I knew students could get practical use out of the robot,” Nate Ellsworth said. “There is so much value in allowing homebound students to be able to connect with their classmates and teachers and at least have some sense of normalcy during difficult situations.”
N1 Critical used proceeds raised at its new headquarters Grand Opening Casino Night Fundraiser (held this past summer) to support the purchase of the Telepresence Robot. It was donated in Matt’s name and given to the school officials in the library, under a stained-glass piece of artwork that had been crafted in honor of Matt.
“When he was undergoing chemo, he was really homesick. The robot would have been very beneficial to him to be at the hospital to be able to keep up with his friends and his schoolwork,” Rene said.
Now, other homebound students in the Evansville School District will have the opportunity to be a part of their school, and be with their friends, classmates and teachers even if they can’t physically be there.
“Students will be excited to use it,” Dobbs said.
Matt’s mom, Rene Wieloch, set up the non-profit Winter’s Soldier Foundation, which supports the purchase of technology — movies, video games, computers, etc. — for homebound or hospitalized students so they can have something to remain engaged and entertained while receiving ongoing or long-term treatments.
For more see the Foundation’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Winters-Soldiers-783176965201306/