CLEVELAND (WJW) — Some of the brightest young minds in Cleveland are learning to build robots and change lives. 

Future engineers, astronauts, and problem solvers recently met for a robotics competition at the Great Lakes Science Center, while in another room they worked on a side project.

Yariselle Andujar and Daneala Moreno are sophomores at Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School in Cleveland.

They are also on a robotics team and recently learned about a 12-year-old girl in Ecuador who needs their help.

“Her name is Samantha,” Daneala explained. 

The girl’s story especially touched her because she is from Ecuador and still has many family members there. 

“She had an accident, a car accident and she lost her two arms.”

These girls and members of four other Cleveland high school robotics teams realized they could use their skills, and their passion for making the world a better place, to build prosthetic arms for that little girl.

With the help of their mentors at the Science Center, Yariselle says she and the other students hope to make Samantha’s dreams come true, “The little girl, she just really wants to write her name. But we wanted to give her something that’s a little more than writing her name.”

They had been working on that project since mid-August when a chance meeting at an open house tech fair set them on another path. 

13-year-old Ernest Priester had gone to the tech fair with his family.

“I was walking past. I saw the thing that they’re using right now, the thing that could throw stuff and stuff, and then when they saw my arm, they asked me did I want one. Because I didn’t see the arm at first. I was just looking at the robot thing.”

13-year-old Ernest was born without his right hand, caused by something called amniotic band syndrome which happens when strands of tissue from the amniotic sac separate and tangle around parts of the developing body.

Ernest’s parents had no idea until he was born.

“He’s the most awesome kid ever,” says Carmen Priester. “Not just because he’s my son, but he’s such a motivator. He does everything. He does Taekwondo. He’s a trumpet player. I’m trying to remember it all! He’s awesome.”

“I like football, I like to run. And I’ve been practicing pitching,” said Ernest.

His favorite thing is flipping, backflips on the trampoline, and front flips on the grass.  

Basically, nothing holds this young man back. 

So when Ernest tried on that prosthetic arm at the school tech fair, imagine where his mind went. 

He described that moment:

“I had to pick up a bottle, a water bottle. When it was straight up I couldn’t pick it up because my arm didn’t bend enough but when I put it down, I picked it straight up.”

Ernest got a bit emotional when he talked about what it will mean to have a right hand.  A tear rolled down his face. 

Jariselle and Daneala realize as well, how special this is, that their teamwork is making a real-life difference. 

“When we told him that it was free, he got really emotional.”

Mom, Carmen got emotional too, “I was all teared up and stuff. Because I actually tried to get him a prosthetic when he was younger. It was so hard.”

Prosthetic limbs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. These Cleveland students used a 3D printer to create prosthetic hands for about seventy-five dollars a piece. The rest of the money they raise enables them to give Ernest a new robotic arm and to build the two that will be sent to Samantha in Ecuador.

Ernest says, “I just hope it works real good.”