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Rich Lehrer is a “Teacher Superhero” with a 3D Cape

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May 08, 2018

About: Rich Lehrer, The D-Zign D-Coder!

Helping those in need and seeing solutions where no one else has, Rich and his students are truly superheroes in their community.  It began when he guided his class to create a functional, 3D-printed prosthetic limb for a child, Rich’s 3-year old son Max, one of the first school groups to do so. Now him and his 6th graders to work with senior citizens in the community to diagnose design problems. To the senior citizens whose lives they improve every day, they are true superheroes.


It is our honor and privilege to share the joy and enthusiasm that Rich Lehrer of Brookwood School, Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, brings to his students and to our organization. 

By way of background, Harborlight Community Partners (HCP) is an affordable housing developer/manager on Boston’s North Shore.  Located in nine communities, we currently provide homes for nearly 600 people.  Most of the 600 people in our homes are lower income senior citizens residing in our congregate living buildings. Our residents come from all walks of life, are of varying physical capabilities, and most are well into their late seventies, eighties and older.  Daily life is simple here; quiet and comfortable, with planned outings, Bingo, Scrabble, and other activities.

And then one day, a Teacher Superhero swooped in with great ideas and a big heart - nothing would ever be the same!

Building 3D Designs and Empathy

Our first encounter with Rich, his colleagues and his inspired students took place at our Harborlight House facility, which is a supportive home for very frail, low income elders. With his small group of students who called themselves the D-ZIGN GIRLS, Rich and fellow teachers arrived with a unique idea: an intergenerational project intertwining human-centered design for purposeful 3D printing to assist the seniors at Harborlight House.  Rich’s goals were clear: to teach students how to listen and interact with empathy, and to visualize and use their understanding of the possibilities of 3D printing to make someone’s life better. Pretty cool, right?

To see this small group of 6th grade girls, led by Rich and fellow teachers, set up a 3D printer at Harborlight House for a “show and tell” demonstration with residents was amazing! Picture if you will earnest, bright-eyed youth, already seasoned in this high tech arena,  explaining to seniors of a very different era and backgrounds what 3D printing is, what it can do, and how it could help them.  This marked the beginning of a journey for students and residents alike of learning and discovery that filled our hearts.  To say that this project was wildly successful is an understatement.

Extending their Community Reach

In fact, it went so well that Rich and fellow Brookwood teachers expanded the collaboration to include other HCP properties, first at our Turtle Creek facility and later to our Turtle Woods property, both in Beverly, MA. Then, the effort stretched even further to our Rockport, MA homes, to Pigeon Cove Ledges and Rockport High School Apartments.  The goals remained the same – purposeful design with 3D printing – but with a longer timeline, Rich was able to include more youth, draw in more residents, and include opportunities for meaningful dialogue between children and seniors.  

It has been wonderful to see the number of students and seniors grow in this partnership.  The youth developed real and engaged connections with our residents through conversations and sharing of life experiences.  Residents have even had field trips of their own, going with students to Brookwood to see their beautiful learning environment.  One such trip took place as part of a “Grandparents’ Day,” students greeted our residents like members of their own family as they arrived. Our residents, upon returning home, beamed and commented they were “treated like royalty.”  

Intergenerational, Transformational Bonds

This connecting of the generations is the kind of learning that has the power to be transformational in a young person’s life. Rich has made this possible with his vision and dedication to deep, authentic learning. We are so pleased to have been a part of that.

Shirley, an HCP Service Coordinator, put it best in offering her assessment, “He is so sincere and caring, and has such a nice way of communicating with everyone.  His genuine warmth, passion and ability to connect with whoever he is talking with are amazing!” Shirley continues, “The residents love him.  Their experience with this intergenerational program opportunity was phenomenal, right from the beginning!  This has been the BEST experience ever.  Rich is a Teacher Superhero and if more educators could take just one page from his book… IMAGINE?”

This project and Rich’s vision has enriched everyone involved.  Inventions to assist our residents have ranged from the “Noffee” coffee cup spill catcher, to “E-Z Grab” Bingo chips, to a “Safe-T-Bagel” cutter, to a utensil extension and the “Key Sleeve” to help turn a small key easier in a door. But it is the human connections that Rich has nourished that are the best discoveries of all.

On the students’ wrap up day at the end of each project session, Rich ensures there is time for final conversations. There are lots of hugs and special moments of “I’ll miss you” and “keep in touch.”  And as the Brookwood van pulls away, driven by the Teacher Superhero in the 3D cape, we know we are witnessing something unique and very special.

As one resident stated, “I’m so touched they are here. Sometimes it feels like people can forget about us. But here they are really interested in what we need. That is really something.”

Pass the tissues, please.  Thank you, Rich!

Bethany Blake and the Harborlight Community Partners, Beverly, MA. Bethany Blake is the Manager of Philanthropy & Marketing for Harborlight Community Partners in Beverly, MA. She has been connected to nonprofits supporting homeless individuals and families for over 25 year as both a grant writer and Development Director, having first come to this work as a MA Literacy Volunteer in Boston shelters.  She is now honored to work with Harborlight in promoting housing creation, access and equity;  home is our most basic necessity and where our stories begin.

Bethany Blake Harborlight Community Partners

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