By Judy Wakefield
---- — If a young child sees a toy on a shelf, he or she will get the toy and play with it. That’s not always the case for the children at The Developmental Day School at The Professional Center for Child Development in Andover.
For the young special needs children at the school on Osgood Street, a disability sometimes stands in the way of their play time and enjoyment.
Unless “Dr. Evans” is around.
He’s not really a doctor. He’s a beloved 25-year volunteer at the school who rewires and fixes toys so the kids there can play with them.
Ellsworth “Elly” Evans, a retired engineer from Westford, was one of 26 volunteers for New England-based nonprofit organizations recently recognized by the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation as a 2013 Myra Kraft Community MVP. The honor came with a $5,000 award for The Developmental Day School.
“To me, volunteerism means using your skills to fill a need,” Evans said in a statement. “Adapting toys for special needs children allows them to play with and enjoy something that would otherwise be useless to them. The joy of seeing these children play is a great reward for me.”
Parent and community liaison Ellen McGrail Waddill said she will never forget Evans’ compassion when her son, Tim, who has cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder, attended The Professional Center. Evans rewired some toys especially for Tim, who does not walk, talk or move very much and is also blind.
It was Waddill who nominated Evans for the Myra Kraft Community MVP honor.
“I remember taking my son to Toys R Us and feeling so sad that he could not use any of the regular toys all the other kids were using ... when every little kid was getting a Tickle Me Elmo for Christmas, Timmy wanted one, but could not activate it,” she said.
“Elly took the toy apart and rewired it to have it turn on with the hit of a switch. Tim was so happy when his head touched the switch and the crazy red monster started to laugh,” Waddill wrote in her nomination.
Evans will rewire anything tossed his way. The humble man who’s not one for attention and recognition said seeing a disabled child play with something he’s worked on is why he’s devoted countless hours to the task.
The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation recognition came as a complete surprise to Evans, who was one of 15, third-prize honorees receiving $5,000 for their organizations. In addition, 10 people won $10,000 awards and there was one $25,000 grand prize winner from Watertown. The toy doctor was the only one singled out from the Merrimack Valley.
The MVP awards celebrate the late Myra Kraft’s example of being a lifelong volunteer. Evans received the award at Gillette Stadium, where he was congratulated by New England Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, New England Patriots Charitable Foundation President Joshua Kraft, Pro Football and Patriots Hall of Famer and Patriots Executive Director of Community Affairs Andre Tippett, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and other players.
The staff members at The Developmental Day School say play time is important for every child’s development.
“Play is the foundation of childhood learning, enabling children to develop motor, thinking, language and social/emotional skills,” said Rachel Daniels, an occupational therapy/assistive technology practitioner.
“Our parents, teachers and therapists are delighted to be able to choose toys that are both highly motivating and beneficial to a child, and then have Elly adapt them. It is wonderful to hear a child say, `I did it!’”
Waddill said the fact that, thanks to Evans, a little boy who does not have full use of his arms can now maneuver a toy with his feet or a knee or a little girl with vision loss as well as limited mobility can listen to musical toy instruments play when she hits a switch with her hand is truly a gift.
“Elly’s willingness to share his time and talents supports our mission of helping children of all abilities achieve their full potential,” she said, adding, “He really puts thought into his work. He’s a wonderful man.”