This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the look on a child’s face when they see their toys under the tree on Christmas morning. A local nonprofit believes it’s also rewarding to see a child’s face when they’re learning to build toys for others.
Dante’ Freeland, founder and CEO of S.O.L.I.D.S. (Students Obtaining Leadership by Innovative Developmental Styles), brings student builders together with STEM professionals to help build toys for children.
The Largo, Maryland, native said he developed the idea for the program while he was an engineering student at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. He told WTOP that he decided he wanted to combine his love of community service work with his STEM skills.
When Freeland graduated from the HBCU and returned to the D.C. area in 2014, he said he founded S.O.L.I.D.S., an organization dedicated to teaching youths leadership skills through STEM, and partnered with the local Boys & Girls Club where he once worked to create the “Build A Kid A Christmas” event.
The first event was held on Dec. 11, 2014. Freeland said about 10 people showed up and they made approximately 50 toys.
He said the program has grown substantially over the past 10 years and has created a positive cycle by having student-builders from middle school, high school and college come together with STEM professionals.
“[These] are all things they can take back with them to their own community with all these technologies and math and engineering around them,” he said.
Freeland said the goal is “to have them all in the same space at the same time.”
As a child, Freeland said he had no access to engineers. But he said this program gives kids a chance to work side by side with professionals, engaging them with the field of study by building high quality toys.
He said the toys include circuit kits, Legos and connect building. After they build the toys, Freeland said they’re donated to younger kids between the ages of five and 10 years old in hopes that the younger children will develop an interest in STEM and become student-builders themselves.
“The best part about this is that toys is the least important part of it. It’s the community,” Freeland said.
The 10th Build A Kid A Christmas Program will be held Saturday, Dec. 9, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. Those who cannot attend are asked to donate here.