Neriah Rhodes is a little girl who had a dream to play the violin. She became interested in the instrument after watching her brother play. The curious 5-year-old is missing her left hand, but she has never let that slow her down.
Elisabeth Rhodes, Neriah’s mother, tells Babble that when they approached Joanna Pepple, a violin teacher from the TRBC Academy of the Arts about the possibility of providing Neriah with some lessons, her response was, “We will make it happen!”
According to Rhodes, the first step they took was to have a left-handed violin specially made for Neriah, along with a “homemade paddle” for holding the bow. The problem was that the paddle never quite worked properly, leading Neriah to become frustrated.
Rhodes says that the paddle had “no engineering behind it.” So, at the recommendation of one of her student’s mothers, Pepple reached out to a few universities — including LeTourneau University in Texas — about the possibility of having a device created for Neriah using a 3D printer.
3D printers have been around for nearly 30 years, and have been steadily gaining in popularity. According to Money Inc., “3D printing has been used to create a vast area of products from bionic limbs and airplane parts, to food and clothing.”
Pepple’s call out yielded one response from a student named Drew Miles at LeTourneau University. Miles told KSLA News that he was initially overwhelmed by the project, because he had thought that several other students would be volunteering to help make the device as well.
“I then found out I was the only person doing the project,” he told KSLA News.
After praying about the project, Miles decided he would give it a try, and although he guessed that it might take about three months to get it right, it ended up taking seven.
His professor, Dr. Ko Sasaki, assisted with the design and the pair went through 15 prototypes (that Neriah tested) before the device was complete.
When the final product arrived at Neriah’s home, Rhodes says she was thrilled.
“Neriah literally screamed with excitement and I teared up just being overwhelmed with emotion,” she tells Babble.
Miles had even hand-painted the device pink (Neriah’s favorite color) after being unable to find materials that color!
Rhodes was beyond grateful for what this selfless young man did for her little girl.
“I do not have enough words to describe how our family feels about Drew,” she says. “He is such an incredibly bright young man, with a servant’s heart and a determination that was necessary for this project.”
Neriah named her device “Eleanor” and has been practicing her violin almost every day.
“Her confidence and excitement is at maximum capacity for her little body!” says Rhodes. “She is LOVING it! And the sound she is able to make now is cleaner.”
She also notes that the device never falls off, and that Neriah tells her, “this doesn’t hurt me at all!”
Rhodes knows that it may be a long time before her daughter reaches her full potential with the instrument, but she is so proud of all that Neriah has overcome.
“There will still be a long learning curve but I told Joanna just to see her light up the way she is, and to see this door open that she’s been trying to bang down, for so long, is SO moving,” says Rhodes. “And we as a family have Joanna and Drew and Jan and LeTourneau to thank for that. God is so good.”
Rhodes says that her family has faced many challenges, but that they always try to look for the good.
“Our family as a whole has experienced a lot of trauma, and we believe in our faith that God is present and His hand is at work in everything,” says Rhodes. “The good AND the bad. In the bad times though, it’s a lot harder to see. So, it’s so nice when you can see it so clearly in good things like this.”
Amen to that. Neriah’s determination and tenacity will take her far in life, and we hope that she will always bring along her violin (and Eleanor!) for the ride.