Wake Robotics kicks off fundraiser to move to downtown Cary

aspecht@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2014 

  • Want to help?

    To donate money to help Wake Robotics move to a new headquarters in downtown Cary, go to http://kck.st/1lRJs54.

— Some of the teen members of Wake Robotics want to build a 10-foot by 10-foot 3-D printer, and the nonprofit’s leaders want to introduce new programs and welcome new members.

The problem is that there’s not enough room at “The Forge,” the group’s headquarters in a residential neighborhood in east Cary.

Space is so limited at the 3,500-square-foot headquarters that the tech-savvy group has been turning down potential new members. The group gets emails every day from people interesting in joining, said Kim Mellendorf, a volunteer.

“We want to stop saying ‘no’ to all these people,” she said.

Wake Robotics, which serves kids throughout the county, has its eye on a 6,500-square-foot space in a building on West Chatham Street in downtown Cary – but it needs help paying for it.

The group has raised about $80,000 of the estimated $120,000 it will need to move. Now members are asking the public to help pay the rest through a campaign on the fundraising website kickstarter.com.

Kickstarter takes an all-or-nothing approach to helping people raise money. If potential donors pledge the needed amount for a project by a certain deadline, it gets funded. If the needed funds aren’t pledged by the deadline, the fundraiser expires and no money changes hands.

Wake Robotics needs $40,000 by June 21. As of Wednesday, more than 40 people had pledged a total of $6,665.

Fundraising against a deadline is scary, said Linda Whipker, who co-founded Wake Robotics. But she thinks the community will see the value as the group’s students and about 60 adult volunteers get their message out in the coming days.

Wake Robotics teaches students science and math in fun ways while also teaching critical thinking and interpersonal skills, she said.

Its 85 students compete in robotics competitions, use computer programs to make things like carrot wind chimes and even learn public speaking so they’re comfortable talking with adults during tech demonstrations.

“They do things that are totally out of their comfort zone, like leading small groups and learning to interact with the public,” said Cary Town Council member Lori Bush, a technical lead engineer at Cisco. “It’s an absolutely great program. I wish it was around when I was a kid.”

A 7-year-old member recently presented information to a room full of 150 engineers at N.C. State, Whipker said.

“He didn’t say much, because he’s 7,” she said. “But he did it.”

Mary Ellen Randall, president and CEO of Ascot Technologies, supports the program because she likes how it teaches older students to mentor younger students.

“They put students of varying ages in teams to work together creatively to develop a solution,” said Randall, who serves on the board of directors for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an international association that promotes science and technology.

“Problem solving is a skill you can use in any profession,” she added.

The group hopes the fundraiser is an answer to a good problem: low supply to high demand.

“Some days we have so many people in there that we have no room to join us,” Whipker said.

If Wake Robotics doesn’t get the funding it needs, its leaders will have to craft a new plan.

If the fundraiser works, upfitting the building at 220 W. Chatham St. will be a project within itself.

The space needs bathrooms, a firewall and electrical wiring, Whipker said. Then they’ll have to figure out how to get all their stuff into a space that they “might outgrow in a year,” Mellendorf said.

Luckily, they know a few good engineers.

Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht

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