There are not many places in the D.C. area where you can find 4,000 kids, an arena full of recycled materials and a showcase of projects from local youth ages 5-14 at 9:30 in the morning. But at the YMCA’s Thingamajig Invention Convention at the Show Place Arena on July 28, campers and other children from around the region got to showcase their inventions and play scientist, inventor or designer for a day.
The theme of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington’s 17th Annual Thingamajig Invention Convention was “IMAGINE, EXPLORE, SOAR” and there was no shortage of imagination and invention in the crowd of nearly 4,000 youth and Y staff. The arena was packed with campers cheering for their branch and showing off their camp shirts and songs. Inventions from 10 different categories included “Upcycled Thingamajig,” “Trashion Fashion,” and “Incredibly Amazing Gadget and Gizmo” filled the floor of the arena.
I was lucky enough to represent the Sierra Club as a judge for this year’s Thingamajig. I started my day judging the “Meet the Feet” and “Paper Pizzazz” categories, where I rated shoe designs made of recyclable materials and inventions made entirely of paper. I was able to talk to the kid inventors, who stood by their inventions waiting to show off their creations to the judges. Some of my favorite “Paper Pizzazz” projects were a functioning pool table made entirely of paper and a swan lake replica complete with origami swans. At the “It’s a Blue Thing” category, I was introduced to a replica of R2D2 and a boat built by two enthusiastic seven-year-olds. A 3D IPad 3 designed by a winning team from last year created entirely out of used materials drew a crowd at the “Incredibly Amazing Gadget and Gizmo” section, while the “Trashion Fashion” fashion show on the main stage featured dresses and outfits made of newspaper and old Capri Sun juice boxes.
My next judging duty came with the Presidential Challenge, an on-the-spot challenge involving teams of 10 children and two staff members. Each of the eight teams had an hour and a pile of recycled material to create a “green” playground that could power the surrounding community and provide a recreation area. In the hour that teams rushed to create their playground, used bicycle tires became power generators, pipe-cleaners became swings and gold YMCA membership cards became solar panels that heated cardboard pools and powered lights made out of Styrofoam.
While the entire event was indoors, Thingamajig still represented some of the ideals that Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program promotes—getting kids active and engaged in projects that benefit the environment and using recycled materials to create something new and creative. As a member of the steering committee of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, YMCA has joined Sierra Club and other organizations to prioritize the well-being of the next generation and the importance of outdoor activities and experiences with nature, something that YMCA camps can provide to youth around the country. Building Bridges to the Outdoors recently provided a grant to the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington to fund their PHD (Physical, Healthy and Driven) in the Wilderness program—a youth fitness and obesity-prevention program connecting the D.C. area’s most at-risk youth with the natural outdoors. PHD was showcased at Thingamajig with a “Let’s Move” dance performance and projects in the “Fitology” category dedicated to encourage fitness and physical activity. This grant will help YMCA create a three-mile trail, including a 12-station fitness circuit, around the YMCA Camp Letts grounds giving thousands of kids from the DC area a chance to get outdoors. YMCA’s Thingamajig Invention Convention is one of many local and national efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles and green practices among children.
- -by Jackie Kantor, BBTO Summer Intern