By Rebekah Hildebrandt
Photos by Amy Jo Osborn and Tommy Lee Byrd
(as published in Chatter Magazine)
Turning a wrench. Twisting a bolt. These tasks may seem simple, just basic skills that take little effort. But for children and parents dealing with pediatric cancer, these tasks are the means to counter the side effects of a life-changing diagnosis. At the Austin Hatcher Foundation, they are the stuff of Industrial Arts Therapy.
In 2006, in response to the loss of their 10-week-old son, Austin Hatcher, to pediatric cancer, Dr. Jim and Amy Jo Osborn established the Austin Hatcher Foundation for Pediatric Cancer in downtown Chattanooga.
"When we lost our son," says Dr. Osborn, "a question came at that point: Do you retreat and lick your wounds, or do you forge ahead and fill a void you've been shown was there?"
For the Osborns, the choice was to fill the void.
Building a Track
The couple met while Dr. Osborn was racing cars to raise money for children with cancer. The Osborns were already well acquainted with a gap in care for families dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Psycho-oncology - or the side effects of cancer on a patient's psychological and social health - often goes unaddressed. As a reaction to their loss, the Osborns decided to open a foundation that would focus on this need for children and their families.
Using existing contacts within the automotive world through his years in racing, Dr. Osborn found ready support for the foundation. Today, 80 percent of the foundation's funding is sourced through the auto industry.
An automotive theme carries throughout the organization, from the design of its Education Advancement Center to the programs offered, especially Industrial Arts Therapy. In this program, pediatric cancer patients and their families are given a chance to counter the psychological side effects of cancer through working with car parts.
From taking apart small engines to reconstructing entire vehicles with added design elements, Industrial Arts Therapy allows pediatric cancer patients and their families an opportunity to focus on something that outwardly looks like a fun activity, all while really healing.
"The Industrial Arts Program, to us, is putting tools of recovery in the kids' hands," Dr. Osborn says.
"It's where they can work on things and feel confident about something, where they can gain pride in what they are doing and gain skill sets. They can feel they have their own accomplishments. In building something, they can see the results."
In the few years since the program was launched, many families have benefited either directly through working on a vehicle or through the proceeds once the cars were sold, he says.
A Winning Set of Wheels
For a third year now, the foundation has built a new car through the Industrial Arts Therapy program. More than 30 participants worked on a 2018 Ford Explorer Sport, deconstructing a new model and adding custom parts, including the outline of a mountain range with a rising sun along the side of the vehicle, reminiscent of rough terrain but the hope of a new start. Over the course of 12 weeks, weeks, patients, parents and siblings worked together to create a vehicle they could be proud of - and it would prove to be award winning. Making the cut of over200 applications to be one of only 20 vehicles to win a Ford Motor Company Award, the Explorer took home the Outstanding Achievement in Design Award at the 2018 SEMA Auto Show.
To Auction and Beyond
Now, the Ford Explorer is out on an 18-month educational tour, promoting the foundation's Healthy Lifestyle program. Taught in elementary schools and at community events, the program's "Fueling Potential: Racing to Win" curriculum makes health engaging by likening the children's bodies to race cars, which they must fuel in the proper ways.
Ultimately, the Explorer will be auctioned off to raise money for the foundation, completing the loop of therapy to education to support to therapy. Meanwhile, families continue to gain the nuts and bolts to healing and confidence while working with new parts and engines.
All services at the Austin Hatcher Foundation are offered free of charge to anyone dealing with pediatric cancer, from toddlers to adults.
Four risk factors influence 65 percent of adult cancer diagnoses. As the Explorer is shown, it raises awareness and promotes the incorporation of these four practices into people's daily lives:
1. Eat healthy
3. Use sunscreen
4. Don't smoke