OVIEDO, Fla. – The Jackson Heights Middle School robotics team is about to have the experience of a lifetime.
"Storm Surge" will represent Central Florida in international competition, but it wouldn't be possible without help from a local company.
Moments after the announcement was made that the team qualified for the First Lego League North American Invitational in California, its coach described the feeling in one word: fear.
Jackie Wilt has been coaching the team for two years and she's used to solving problems, but this seemed a bit overwhelming.
"We're celebrating, and then it's like, 'Oh, my goodness, how are we going to pay for this trip?'" she said.
The First LEGO robotics league teams use robots made from LEGO pieces, electric motors and programmable controllers to solve simulated real world problems. This year's theme is hydrodynamics.
The Jackson Heights team earned the invitation in February at the regional First LEGO League robotics competition. The team will compete with 80 teams from around the world at the LEGO-sponsored event next month.
"This trip is extremely expensive. We have 10 students, two coaches and parents that want to go," said Wilt, adding that registration fees and food for at least four days put the trip out of reach for most families. "That's a lot of money. We couldn't have done it without the community help."
The team received donations from 13 businesses, and 30 people contributed to a GoFundMe account. But one donation stood out.
ITI Engineering in Winter Springs donated $10,000.
"We wanted to make sure they had what they needed," ITI General Manager Charlie Mitchell said. "They don't have to worry about the financial burden and (can) focus on what they need to do."
Mitchell said the company made an initial donation earlier this year and had been following the team's progress.
"We're just really proud of the kids and all the work they put in," he said.
The small aerospace engineering company employs about 25 people. Mitchell said most of his co-workers can identify with the kids' technical curiosity.
"It's a win-win for everybody," he said "We encourage them to get into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs and maybe one day they'll be here working and creating with us."
ITI was nominated for the News6 Getting Results Award by parent Stacy Holland-Gross, whose daughter, Hayden, is one of the builders.
"I thought everyone should know," she said. "Without the money, we didn't see a possibility."
Holland-Gross said the team had a number of fundraising efforts but were still short of what was needed until ITI Engineering entered the picture.
"We really had to find help, and help came," she said. "I can't stop talking about it, and if I keep talking about it I'm going to cry.
"I believe there are a lot of companies out there that do care about the community and try to do good things," Mitchell said. "We're just one of them, but it's nice to be able to help out and get involved."
The competition will be held May 18-20 at LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, California.
For more information about the program or donate to the team's GoFundMe account, visit: www.ihmsroboticsteam.weebly.com.