By Meredith Burow
When you think of the western communities today, “swamp” may not be the first word to come to mind. But for Loxahatchee residents Darcy Murray and her son Aiden, being a Child of the Swamp is a fact — and fortune — of life.
Aiden is a rising sophomore at Suncoast High School, where he’s an active member of an award-winning robotics team called the Children of the Swamp. In April, the team traveled to the FIRST Championship Houston, a worldwide robotics competition in which they won fourth place.
“Placing fourth in the world was very exciting for us,” Aiden said. “It has been, I think, about 10 years since we’ve gotten even close to this.”
Now, after months of building and perfecting their robot, traveling to new cities for competitions and coming home victorious, the high schoolers persist in working together to sharpen and polish their craft. But to do so, they need money.
That’s where Aiden’s mother has stepped in to help out.
As her son was a freshman last year, high school robotics was a new animal to Murray. After discovering, however, that registration for one competition alone costs the team $5,000 — and there are multiple competitions a year, not to mention the thousands of dollars it takes to build the robots and practice arena — she quickly found her calling.
Murray began her search for sponsors by posting about it on her Facebook page and asking local businesses in the western communities. Before she knew it, the donations started rolling in.
But even following the generous gifts from various donors, the funds are still wanting.
“I think I’ve collected enough for half of the registration just to go to Worlds,” Murray said. “And there’s all the other competitions, too.”
According to Murray, out of the hundreds of teams that competed in Houston this year, one of the few teams that beat the Children of the Swamp was sponsored by Apple and Google, thus adding to the challenges the local team faces.
Nevertheless, Murray considers the team worth the time, money and energy it takes to travel from Loxahatchee to the group’s Riviera Beach warehouse where the students build robots and relationships two to three times a week.
“I love it. I love the camaraderie,” Murray said. “He’s creating friendships that are going to last forever.”
It’s that fluid social interaction that helps motivate Lisa Smith — an avid volunteer with the Children of the Swamp — to continue to invest long, unpaid hours in the program. According to Smith, being a part of the group helped her son, Dylan, when he was in high school, and she has been volunteering with the team for nearly a decade now because of it.
According to Smith, Dylan was rather shy and quiet as a kid, but being part of the team helped him come out of his shell and connect with others. Today he works for FIRST, the robotics organization behind all this “almost organized chaos,” as Aiden called the world competition.
“Most of these kids are not athletic. Most of these kids are shy, but super, super smart,” Smith said. “And we want to be able to do the same thing for these kids that this did for my son.”
Smith, a paralegal, believes in the importance of the program so much, in fact, that during the season, she and her husband invest approximately 30 to 40 hours of volunteer time a week.
Not only does Smith volunteer her time, but she encourages the Children of the Swamp to invest in the younger robot enthusiasts, as well. Smith considers part of her role is to “motivate the kids on the team to help others and pay it forward,” which is actually how Aiden learned about the team.
“We’re basically a big family,” Aiden said. “We all know each other, we all get along, a lot of us go to school together… so we’re all very close.”
Every high schooler, and rising high schooler, is invited to join their “family.” Now in the off-season, the team is working on a triangular-shaped robot named “Tostito.”
“All you have to do is just show up,” Aiden said. “Anyone can join the team.”
To see this year’s robot, “the Swamp Thing,” in action, you can search “Children of the Swamp FRC 179 2019” on YouTube. If you’d like to be a sponsor of the team, contact Darcy Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.