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Dragged there to learn, kids have a blast at camp


ELYRIA - Budding entrepreneurs got a chance to use their hands - and their brains - all week at a summer camp thanks to a foundation founded by actor John Ratzenberger.

Don't recognize the name? Well, how about Cliff, the know-it-all mailman on "Cheers"? Yeah, that's John Ratzenberger.

The 22 boys and four girls attending Techknowledge! Summer Camp had access to state-of-the-art fabrication equipment at Lorain County Community College, including a laser cutter.

By the end of the week, 13-year-old Simone Sharp of Elyria said she wished the camp had lasted a lot longer because summer gets "boring."

"I thought I would hate it, but I wish it lasted a month because it was so fun," Simone said.

The children had access to tools needed to conceptualize, design, develop, fabricate and test a variety of things at LCCC's FAB Lab.

Like Simone, Alec Renaldo, 14, of Fairlawn, said he was "forced" to attend the camp but started to enjoy it right away.

"It was fun - we got to use the equipment to design 3-D boats," he said.

Alec said it's cool that Ratzenberger set up a foundation called Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs. The foundation sponsored the summer program with the Fabricators & Manufacturer's Association and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

"He's using his money for young kids," Alec said.

Not only did the kids design rubber-band-powered boats, they built and raced them.

The most elaborate boat design belonged to Bryan Krall, 15, of Sheffield Lake, who has his heart set on getting an engineering degree and earning $120,000 as a Legos designer. Sadly, the boat was beautiful - but flawed, he said.

"It wouldn't work - it's too complicated," Bryan said. "The gears needed to be smaller."

The winning boat design belonged to Team Boatapotopolismonono - Team Boat for short, which had a sleek, simple design.

Second place went to Team Trash, named because team members retrieved their winning boat from a wastebasket.

The camp ran 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily for the week and cost the kids just $25 thanks to a $4,000 grant from Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, and the $25 fee was refunded if the kids completed the program. The camp was also offered at 17 other community colleges across the country.

In addition to being a founder of Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs, Ratzenberger hosts a television program called "Made in America" that features interesting innovators and manufactures.

A national poll sponsored by the organization showed a majority of teens - 52 percent - have little or no interest in a manufacturing career and another 21 percent are ambivalent.

That concerns Ratzenberger, because more than 70 percent of all the jobs created in the United States come from small businesses - many of them started and run by inspired entrepreneurs.

"It's absolutely critical for this mindset to change because when America recovers from our economic downtown, there will be a dire need for skilled manpower in the trades," Ratzenberger said in a news release.

Young people attending the camp said they will keep an open mind, but many still expressed doubts that manufacturing is for them.

Cameron Williams, 14, of Carlisle Township, said he wants to be an aerospace technician after attending NASA's Project Paragon for kids.

But he knows he'll have to keep his grades up to do that.

"When I try, I get A's and B's," he said. "When I don't I get C's, D's and F's."

LCCC president Roy Church dropped in on the final day of camp activities on Friday and watched part of the boat race.

Techknowledge! Summer Camp is just one of the College for Kids programs the college runs in the summer, Church said.

"It's absolutely wonderful - we're trying to teach young people innovation," Church said.

"What we want them to learn is that manufacturing in the future is like the environment of the FAB Lab versus their perception of a factory that is dirty and unsafe," Church said.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or

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