As we ready to head to the FIRST Championship in Houston this week, we find ourselves reflecting on the journey on which FIRST has taken us.

FIRST LEGO League Team Mu, meeting FIRST founder Dean Kamen in 2008, with our son, Chris, and daughter Andrea and Terri to the right of Mr. Kamen

Our son’s involvement in FIRST LEGO League, when he was 12, now well over a dozen years ago, led us to mentoring in FIRST Tech Challenge and FIRST Robotics Competition teams, and ultimately working to create resources – like the ROBOTICON STEAM education showcase and FIRST Robotics Competition off-season, and later founding the nonprofit Foundation for Community Driven Innovation (FCDI), and through FCDI, to design a facility – the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Center (AMRoC). AMRoC , seeded by an Argosy Foundation grant over a year ago, and since then supported by a variety of amazing community partners, is intended to give more youth – those involved in FIRST and those not yet so fortunate – an opportunity to have a place to learn, meet, practice and connect with mentors in manufacturing & industry who can help pave a path to a meaningful future for more young people through pre- and full apprenticeship and internship opportunities.

Click to learn more about AMRoC

Our first trips to the FIRST Championship were in 2010 and 2012, with the FIRST Tech Challenge team we founded, Team Duct Tape, in Atlanta and later St. Louis, as volunteers and mentors. Later, my work as Regional Director for FIRST took me to St. Louis and most recently Houston, where I worked behind the scenes with event organizers and teams. This year, Steve and I head back on behalf of FCDI as guests and fans, with fellow FCDI board member Chuck Stephens, to share best practices about ROBOTICON and lead a manufacturing panel discussion, in the hopes of helping people see how creating stronger connections between industry and FIRST can help both.

Our nation faces a lot of challenges today, many rooted in the need for people, particularly youth, to have agency in their lives, to find meaningful ways to live in the world, with the right skills and tools to help them find purpose and fulfillment, and to become contributing members of society. We believe we have a solution, from the public makerspaces we help create through Eureka! Factory to the charitable work we do through the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation.

Team Duct Tape with their Mentor of the Year, Paul Markun, of Tampa Technik

The solution isn’t complicated, although sometimes the mechanism for delivering it can be. But essentially, it’s just a matter of being there, of simply showing up, to learn, and to teach. The FIRST Championship is a reminder of what can be accomplished when we take the time to be with one another in meaningful ways, to share what we know, to support each other, and be, individually and together, the solutions we need for a better world and a brighter future, for our youth and for all of us.

Terri Williingham