In memory of Cherokee

Apr 25, 2008

Creating an outdoor sanctuary for her family to remember her by, Kettering's Engineers Without Borders build a deck in Cherokee's honor.

Kettering’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) helped the family of Cherokee Quinn Davidson celebrate her life and memory April 19 and 20 as they completed construction of a deck on the family’s home in Flushing, Mich.

Cherokee, 14, died from complications of leukemia March 14, one day before EWB had scheduled to build the deck and a wheelchair ramp to her home. The Kettering students went ahead with plans for the deck to give her family a place to remember happy times with Cherokee, said Dr.Laura Sullivan, professor of Mechanical Engineering and faculty adviser for EWB.

The group had pre-constructed sections of the deck and wheelchair ramp in lab space at Kettering over a period of two weekends. Teaming up with EWB for the installation part of the build project was Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

They spent two days digging post holes, leveling the sections and laying the decking – while intermittently breaking into song, quizzing each other on engineering trivia, stopping to eat pizza and slapping on more bug spray.

Cherokee’s four-year-sister McKenzie “helped” by shoveling dirt from the post hole piles and throwing rocks into the woods behind the family home. Parents Christine and Scott were very grateful to the build crew for their work and for offering to build the wheelchair ramp and deck for the family when Cherokee was ill.

“Eric Jacuzzi was the student who really got this project going,” said Sullivan of the project for Cherokee.  “He wrote a grant to the Carter Foundation for $1000 to cover the costs of materials for one ramp,” she added.

Once the group began work on the ramp for Cherokee, they realized the doors to her home were too narrow for her to get through in a wheelchair.  At that point, EWB began to include plans for a deck on the back of house, giving Cherokee wheelchair access to a sliding glass door. 

“This made our costs go up to at least $2,000,” Sullivan said, “so Eric worked with Home Depot and received a grant from them for $2,000 to cover the costs of the deck.”

EWB at Kettering has made it one of the group’s ongoing projects to build wheelchair ramps for people who don’t meet the requirements of other non-profits that build ramps.“Just because someone doesn’t live in Flint, or they live in a mobile home doesn’t mean they don’t need help,” said Sullivan.

The group is beginning to receive referrals from hospitals and other agencies who work with patients who need ramps, but either can’t afford them or do not qualify for other ramp-building programs.

Since the Davidsons no longer need a ramp, two-thirds of the ramp planned for Cherokee will go to a home in Burton sometime in April or early May, according to Sullivan.

“I've since received a request for a ramp in Mt. Morris for a family with a parent who's been diagnosed with ALS, and I've also been asked for information from case managers at Genesys and Hurley,” Sullivan said. She also received two phone calls from individuals seeking ramps for family members.

The only thing that will slow EWB’s ramp building program is securing funding. The group relies on contributions and grants to purchase materials. To support their efforts contact Sullivan at or call 810-762-9838.

The group is committed to building wheelchair ramps as an ongoing project of both A and B sections of EWB in addition to doing projects overseas, said Sullivan of all the requests. For more information about EWB at Kettering visit their web site (

Engineers Without Borders - USA(EWB-USA) is a non-profit humanitarian organization established to partner with developing communities worldwide in order to improve their quality of life. This partnership involves the implementation of sustainable engineering projects, while involving and training internationally responsible engineers and engineering students. For more information, visit their web site (

Written by Dawn Hibbard