Operating Engineers bring construction equipment, excitement to Children’s Hospital
DETROIT – When Operating Engineers 324 and its partners in construction brought heavy equipment to the American Cancer Society’s Big Dig event in July to raise awareness and funds in the fight against pediatric cancer, they knew one group of kids might be left out: Children with cancer who couldn’t attend because they were getting treatment or tested at hospitals.
So, on Sept. 21, OE324 and its partners brought the event to the kids, setting up a mini-Big Dig event at the Children’s Hospital campus in Detroit.
Operating Engineers 324 and other members of the construction industry helped kids experience working on heavy equipment outside the hospital. In the hospital lobby, simulators allowed children who couldn’t leave the hospital to still see what operating a construction machine is like.
Deanna Fisher, 9, had just completed some tests at the hospital when she and her father, Matthew, saw the equipment outside the hospital and decided to try them out.
“I love the machines and my favorite one is the lift because it brings you super high,” said Deanna, who also enjoyed the excavator. Deanna’s dad, an IBEW electrician, was extremely glad to see skilled trades professionals working to raise their profile in the community.
“We came downstairs and saw all the equipment outside and I was shocked and I’m very pleased and surprised to see it,” Matthew Fisher said.
The Big Dig is a partnership between Michigan’s construction sector with the American Cancer Society to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. In July, the fourth annual Big Dig was held at OE324’s 600-acre Construction Career Center in Howell, raising more than $115,000. The event has grown every year since its first year, held in a parking lot in Southfield.
LeeAnn McDowell, ACS’s associate director of developments, said after July’s Big Dig, she and event partners were looking for ways to include more pediatric survivors and patients who couldn’t attend the Big Dig.
“So, we brought the Big Dig experience to them in a controlled and safe environment” at the Children’s Hospital in Detroit, McDowell said. McDowell said participants were inpatient and outpatient children receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital who wouldn’t be able to attend ACS’s regular public events. In addition to experiencing heavy equipment and simulators, children also received gifts and treats.
OE324 instructor Krystle Schnell was one of dozens of volunteers at the event, where she joined fellow instructor Mike Love in managing two backhoe simulators in the hospital’s lobby. Krystle said they gave kids who couldn’t go outside the opportunity to still “experience what it’s like to sit in the seat.”
“These kids are excited to get on this equipment and they’re even more excited to hear that there’s real equipment outside,” Schnell said.
At one point during the event at Children’s Hospital, Schnell called out to a passing parent whose son had tried out one of the heavy machines: “This guy right here! I need to talk to you, mom. He is amazing at running equipment. He needs to look at this as a potential career. He has a knack for it. Not joking!”
OE324 President Ken Dombrow praised OE324’s construction partners for supporting the event with equipment and volunteers and helping bring so many smiles to children’s faces.
“When you see the large construction equipment out in your neighborhood or out on the road, it’s a pretty neat experience to see it working and see the jobs that they do and then to be able to get on the equipment and move the equipment yourself, that’s a pretty big deal for a kid,” Dombrow said. “To be able to bring our equipment to the kids, to give them a break, and they can come down and have fun with the equipment for a few hours, that’s just awesome.”
Dombrow said that as OE324’s President, he was proud of Operating Engineers 324 for joining forces with organizations like the ACS and with others in the construction industry to support community events such as the Big Dig and the mini-Big Dig at Children’s Hospital.
“Partnerships like these are a way for operating engineers to give back to our community,” he said. “This is one of our commitments as an organization.”
McDowell said Children’s Hospital was one of the participants of the July Big Dig event, bringing out different units, including its helicopter unit. The hospital, she said, is already expressing interest in participating in next year’s Big Dig fundraiser. Planning for 2023’s Big Dig is starting soon, McDowell said.
“We are excited to continue to make the Big Dig event bigger,” she said. “Every year, the Big Dig event gets bigger, in terms of attendance and number of equipment and dollars raised, which is wonderful to see.”
The Michigan Big Dig fundraiser supports pediatric cancer research, education and advocacy. Cancer is the leading disease-related cause of death among U.S. children and teens ages 1-19. For more information, go to: cancer.org.