Pacific Beach business gives the gift of dexterity
by Kendra Hartmann
Nov 22, 2013 | 2522 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Control Group co-founder Joey Rocco, right, holds a finished hand. In photo at left, Kris Kibak, right, works with his team to build a prosthetic hand, with the added challenge of being able to use only one of their own hands. KENDRA HARTMANN
The Control Group co-founder Joey Rocco, right, holds a finished hand. In photo at left, Kris Kibak, right, works with his team to build a prosthetic hand, with the added challenge of being able to use only one of their own hands. KENDRA HARTMANN
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The Control Group, Pacific Beach’s answer to Silicon Valley, took a break from its exponential expansion on Nov. 15 to lend a hand to amputees through a charitable project.

Employees and owners at the web startup, creators of instantcheckmate.com, stepped away from their computer screens for an afternoon of building prosthetics to be sent overseas to landmine victims. They invited Odyssey Teams, a training and team-building company that incorporates philanthropy into its programs, to their Mission Boulevard offices to lead the Helping Hands project.

“We were trying to think of something cool to do and we thought it would be good to do something that doesn’t just involve a monetary donation,” said The Control Group co-founder Kris Kibak. “We wanted something that would feel good to do, but also incorporate team building.”

Building prosthetics carries personal significance for Kibak. When he was in high school, he said, he broke his femur and had a titanium rod installed in his leg for two years. When it came time to remove the rod, he got a surprising request from his doctor.

“My doctor asked if it was okay for them to keep it,” he said. “[Titanium rods] are so expensive — my insurance had paid to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for everything — and they said if they could keep it, they would send it to someone in Africa who would never have access to this kind of advanced medical equipment. This is similar in that we’re sending these prosthetics out to Third World countries where people are getting injured by walking into unexploded ordnance or landmines and who usually don’t have a budget for a $3,000 minimum prosthetic.”

Kibak joined his employees in building a hand for the project, during which participants were split up into groups of three, each group building one hand. Todd Demorest of Odyssey Teams, who led the project, threw a twist into their efforts, however: every person had to wear a compression sleeve on one hand, rendering it nearly unusable. The rule forced participants to work together, each one helping build a prosthetic hand using only one working real hand.

“We want people to learn, not just do. We’re hoping they walk away from this with some wisdom, as a company and as people,” said Demorest. “We’ve found that with an emotional component, they’ll remember what they learned from it longer. They might be struggling building this hand right now with just one hand. They’re total beginners. They’ll look at their hands differently for a long time.”

Demorest said Odyssey Teams got involved with prosthetics several years ago when the company struck up a partnership with LN-4, or the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation. Odyssey spreads the foundation’s mission through its team-building seminars, after which it sends the finished hands back to the foundation, which distributes them around the world to amputees. For those who fear they might not possess the expertise to build a prosthetic someone will use day in and day out for everyday tasks, rest assured, Demorest said.

“[The hands are] designed to be easy to build, cost effective, functional and durable,” he said. “And they are.”

As team members at The Control Group worked together to fit components together — a process akin to building furniture from IKEA, Demorest said — working limbs began emerging, the telltale “click” of functioning prosthetic fingers signaling a near-finished product. The teams weren’t finished when they produced a hand, however. The project also involved hand-decorating a carrying case for the prosthetic, along with a team photo to be included with the hand, putting a human face on the donation for the recipient to see who contributed to his or her new dexterity.

For more information about Odyssey Teams or to order a prosthetic-building kit for a group of 30 or more, visit odysseyteams.com. For more information on The Control Group, visit thecontrolgroup.com or instantcheckmate.com.
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