ST. JOHN — Last November, Crown Point Christian School computer/technology teacher Luke Mazur began working with a volunteer organization that connects people who need a prosthetic hand or arm with volunteers, like himself, who are making them using a 3-D printer.

A 3-D printer follows computer commands to print out a three-dimensional object. The organization is called e-NABLE Google + community.

Mazur has made five hands so far, with assistance from students in kindergarten through fifth grade. He said he made the 3-D hands using the palm prints of some of the school's younger students as a model.

This year, Mazur has introduced the project to the upper grades, with plans for seventh-graders to take over the program next year.

"It all starts by using their files and resources to print a sample 3-D printed hand," he said of e-NABLE.

"Then you send in the sample hand to be approved and added to their volunteer network. Once you do this, they keep you in the database to pair with people who are in need."

Mazur said he also can interact with other volunteers for help or advice, along with those looking for a prosthetic device.

According to its website, e-NABLE is a web-based network of volunteers who are using their 3-D printers, design skills and personal time to create free 3-D printed prosthetic hands for those in need across the world.

E-NABLE's Jen Owen said one of the advantages of printing the hands by 3-D is that children often outgrow them, and another one can be printed in a matter of hours for less than a few dollars in plastic. 

"We do not sell the devices. We give them away for free to those in need," she said by email.

"We are simply a global community of makers and tinkerers who are using our 3-D printers from our homes, businesses, schools, libraries, makerspaces, garages and basements to make free 3-D printed hands and arms and assistive devices for those in need.

"As for how many people we have helped, from what we know and estimate, at least 2,000 hands and arms have been delivered and have been or are being used by people (mostly children) in over 50 countries worldwide.

"The design was given away free and open-sourced by my husband, Ivan Owen, in 2013 so that people anywhere could make the design or improve it and create it for someone else, no matter where they were in the world."

Changing world of prosthetics

Mazur showed students a short video about e-NABLE and their work worldwide and some of the volunteers, including engineers and others who are involved in the project.

"Prostheses can be expensive," Mazur told his students. "If we help out and volunteer to do this and donate this to people in need, we will really be helping them out."

Mazur received the first 3-D printer for free from a company overseas when he agreed to test it out, and he's hoping to get another one.

"The goal is to get more resources and get the students involved," he said.

"In making the hands, the students will be using science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). They'll be reviewing the data from e-NABLE and figuring out the palm size for a child using math and science. They'll be using engineering and design as they make the hand, and they'll be using math throughout the process."

Seventh-grader Madison Derks said the school has never done anything like this before, and "it'll be nice to do something like this for other people."

Taylor Oppenhuis said she thinks the project seems pretty interesting.

Blake Avila said he'd never thought about making a hand using a 3-D printer. "This is really interesting. It's cool," he said.

Interim Principal Nicholas Groen sat in on the class in the school's library. He said Crown Point Christian School is for Christian families who want their children brought up in a manner consistent with their practices at home.

The school has been in its current new building at 10550 Park Place in St. John since 2007.

The school has 706 students in preschool through eighth grade. Of the total, 36 children ages 4 and 5 are in the preschool. The school offers Spanish, a variety of extracurricular activities and sports for boys and girls.

In the 2015-16 school year, 104 of the students received the Choice Scholarship, up from 93 the previous year.

The Choice Scholarship, also called a voucher, allows a family to use public school dollars to attend private school.

In the 2015-16 school year, that represented $352,153 to the school. In the in 2014-2015, the amount was $321,075, according to the Indiana Department of Education and released in April 2016. The state graded the school a B in 2016.

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Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.