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Human Interest

Sixth Graders Make 3D Printed Prosthetic Hands for Kids in Need

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Three sixth grade girls from Irmo, South Carolina, are using their school’s 3D printer to build hands for kids in need.

“The first time we saw the 3D printers, we were all very intrigued,” Corbyn Player, 12, tells PEOPLE. While searching for a way to use their school’s new technology for good, Corbyn and her friends, Carson Ellis and McKenzie Smith, discovered Enabling the Future, an organization that pairs people who need prosthetics with people who have 3D printers.

“Almost on a whim, we came across that organization one day,” their teacher Dr. Craft tells PEOPLE. “And we said, ‘We could do this,’ almost with a sense of nervous bravado.”

A few weeks after the girls reached out, they were paired with Alyssa, an 11-year-old South Carolina girl who was born without a left hand. After a few failed attempts, the girls were able to print and assemble a custom hand that would allow Alyssa to do simple tasks that eluded her for years. “For Alyssa, we made a purple hand because we knew that purple was her favorite color,” says Carson Ellis, 12.

The three girls and their teacher were able to present the hand to Alyssa in November. “When Alyssa walked in the room with the hand, we all got teary-eyed and she got teary-eyed and we were all just so excited to see that it had actually happened,” McKenzie Smith, 12, tells PEOPLE.

For Alyssa, the gift was nothing short of life changing. “They helped me do things I would not be able to do,” she told South Carolina’s WLTX. “I held my text book yesterday, and I didn’t drop it on my foot.”

After seeing the impact of their work, the girls were inspired to push their project even further. “We definitely knew that we wanted to keep trying to take this to the next level,” McKenzie says. Their idea to hold a Hand-A-Thon – getting their 85 classmates involved in assembling 20 prosthetic hands in one day – won them a 2015 Belk Service Learning Prize. Their project, “Prosthetic kids,” was chosen along with two others in the contest that’s open to students in 16 states in the Southeast.

On Thursday, the students and their teacher were surprised with an $8,000 check from Belk, Discovery Education and the International Society for Technology in Education.

McKenzie, Corbyn and Carson with their prize

“It was a big surprise because Dr. Craft didn t tell us anything about it, and we just thought we lost,” Carson says. “It was exciting and it kept us pushing, so in the future we can make more [hands]. It gave us more determination.”

The next day, the girls and their classmates came together and assembled a total of 19 hands, including one for the 9-year-old sister of a classmate. “It was actually pretty awesome because every one of our classmates was helping and supportive and they wanted to be involved,” Corbyn says.

Dr. Craft could not be more proud of his students and their dedication to helping others. “They gave up recess time, they ve [worked] after school, they ve been absolutely awe-inspiring. They’re using their hearts and passion to do something great for this world,” he says.

6th graders at work at the Hand-A-Thon

“So often we have the tendency in our society to almost be derisive towards kids – you know – ‘kids these days,’ ” Dr. Craft says. “But the reality is, when presented with the opportunity to do something positive for others, kids – especially girls – absolutely latch on to it.”

All three of the girls say they want to continue to use new technologies to help others. “It feels really good to know that you’re giving back to the community and not just taking from it,” Corbyn says.

And their efforts will now reach kids worldwide. The printed hands they make going forward will be sent to kids in need across the globe.