SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The walls of the Children’s Safety Center in Springdale had to be preserved, somehow, during its recent move.
They’re covered floor-to-ceiling with thousands of handprints from kids who’ve been helped by the center. A group of middle school students found a way to keep those handprints, and the memories behind them, alive.
“They deserve to be recognized and shown by their stories because they’re just kids like us,” said Takumi Espino, currently an 8th grader at Sonora Middle School.
Espino helped create a 3-dimensional walkthrough of the handprints on the walls.
“We used the iPad to draw all the icons for each kid that had a story,” Espino recalls.
Click on the icons he created — and you can read the story of one of the children helped by the center.
“They’ve added in links and hyperlink things into the tour,” Derek Ratchford, who encouraged the students to make this project, said. “You can really get a sense not just walking through it, but get content as well.”
Ratchford is a facilitator at Sonora for a program called EAST, which stands for Education Accelerated by Service and Technology. He says some of his own students face abusive situations, and upon learning about it, he contacted the Children’s Safety Center.
“It’s amazing when we start talking about the Children’s Safety Center how many kids will speak up and say, ‘They changed my life. They helped me and helped me through some of the darkest times of my life.'” Ratchford said. “And kids are not shy to talk about that.”
On top of getting those kids the help they needed, Ratchford arranged for his students to help with preserving the handprints the center thought it would be losing in the move.
“People don’t want to see them go away because they’re real stories and they’re human stories,” said Peyton Stewman, who works at the center.
“We went in and filmed the center with a 360 camera,” Ratchford remembers.
Ratchford created a unique assignment for the middle schoolers: preserve the meaning of those walls that would otherwise be gone forever.
“Tearing down all the memories that have been in all the healing that has been in these hallways is a really sad way to lose everything,” Espino said.
After getting the visual aspect of the 360 tour, the kids went to work on the next layer — storytelling. Genesis Alba, a 7th grader at the time, was given that task.
“I imported the kids’ stories using Google slides into Kula, the app we’re using for the 360 tour,” Alba recalls.
Those stories have made an impact on the Sonora students.
“It’s been powerful for them to see and hear the stories of the kids and then have to recreate that into the tour,” Ratchford said.
“The stories really caught my eye,” said student Erika Martinez. “Not only do I go through things, but I also want to learn about what other people go through.”
The impact is perhaps strongest on the safety center workers who helped the kids who made those handprints.
“They really are our inspiration and they push us forward,” said Stewman. “They mean a lot to us. Those stories are what we do. Our mission. They represent everything we’re about.”
And perhaps no one is prouder than Ratchford, who’s seen his students grow through the project.
“I see kids that are willing to do anything to help their neighbor or their community in whatever way that they can,” he said. “And sometimes it’s just telling their story. And that’s what these kids have been so great at with the center.”