By Caryn B. Davis/Photos courtesy Make-A-Wish
Mark Yurkiw has always been a go-to guy with a skill set as diverse as the businesses he has serviced. His highly successful company, The Group Y, specializes in providing 3D marketing solutions for “all manners of people,” advertising agencies, and Fortune 500 companies such as Pfizer, Yahoo, BMW, Armani, Intel, VH-1, Pepsi, Sports Illustrated, Staples, Revlon, and many others. His innovative work has graced the cover of every major magazine in the U.S. except TIME, because when they called he was busy on another project. So when the Connecticut chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation was seeking to grant a very particular wish requiring a certain kind of ingenuity, they contacted Mark.
Jacob is ten, and he loves to play with LEGOS® and an online game called Mind Craft that also incorporates building. His wish was to have an outdoor dwelling where he could play with all his toys.
When Make-A-Wish first approached Yurkiw, he immediately offered some obvious and easy solutions like buying a garden shed that could be outfitted or finding a carpenter to construct something from scratch. But Jacob’s wish had to be special. After visiting with him, Yurkiw found his inspiration.
“As I was conceiving what this should be and why, I realized it was about his future and what that future holds for him. I started thinking in terms of a “Think 3D Lab” that could connect his virtual world and physical world,” says Yurkiw. “I conceived of making the outside look like a giant colorful brick house to remind him of what he likes to play with, while the inside would help him explore things he had not yet had the opportunity to, and encourage him to work hard towards his future.”
Now all Yurkiw had to do was convert these ideas into something tangible. But Yurkiw enjoys a challenge; and when he had his Manhattan based company, “Think 3D”, his job was all about finding the right people, materials, and solutions to solve difficult problems.
“I worked mostly within the ad industry doing what I called “sculptural storytelling,” where we designed and built sculptures to explain new products or services being offered by some company. My clients had me design and build visualizations and ideas for everything,” he says.
But after September 11th, like so many other New Yorkers, Yurkiw found himself reevaluating his life and profession.
“I realized something had fundamentally changed. I closed my studio shortly thereafter and decided to spend time on things that were worthwhile, that had meaning and purpose, and weren’t about selling something like this “Think 3D Lab” for Make-A-Wish,” he says.
Make-A-Wish is a non-profit organization established in 1980. The first wish ever granted was to seven-year-old Chris Greicius who wanted to be a police officer. Chris was given a uniform and more by two officers making him Arizona’s first and only honorary Department of Public Safety Officer. Sadly, he passed away the next day after succumbing to leukemia and was given the ceremony of a fellow fallen officer. But word spread about this moving act of kindness, and Make-A-Wish was born.
The organization now has 62 chapters nationwide. Wishes are granted to children with life threatening diseases that come to them via a referral from a physician, social worker, school nurse, the parent, or the child themselves.
“After a doctor confirms the illness, the child is put through a qualifying process. We then send two wish granters to the child’s home who are trained with techniques to help figure out what the child’s one true wish is. Sometimes it takes multiple visits,” says Pamela Keough, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish, Connecticut®.
Over 300 children in Connecticut are diagnosed annually with a life threatening medical condition. In 2015, 250 of them received their wish. It’s a lot of pressure considering the timeliness and the cost, which averages $10,000 per wish.
“There are five categories of wishes. A wish to go someplace. Disney of course is the most popular. A wish to meet someone like the Pope, the President, a celebrity, or a musician. A wish to be someone such as a police officer, superhero, fashion designer, or dancer. They are not as popular, but neat to do. A wish to give back, which might be having a party at the hospital where the child was treated. And a wish to have, which could be a shopping spree, a computer, or in Jacob’s case, a playhouse,“ says Keough.
So Yurkiw got busy working to fulfill Jacob’s wish and enlisted the help of a couple of college students because he envisioned this project continuing as its own non-profit organization where students can build these structures for college credit and educate the younger generation about what the future holds. The result was nothing ordinary. Every detail of this “3D Laboratory” was carefully planned and executed.
The exterior panels are comprised of acrylic plastic cut into what looks like colorful blocks. It is intentionally lightweight and built modularly so it can easily be moved and reassembled anywhere.
“I recreated everything in AutoCAD before we put it up so we would know if it worked, in case someone wanted to build one themselves,” says James Randall Potter Jr., a student at Norwalk Community College.
Yurkiw sized the “lab” to comfortably accommodate four children and encourage a Think Tank environment. There are no sharp corners anywhere, so it’s totally safe. The interior is a modular design as well, so tables can be reconfigured at will. There is a sleeping loft for napping and dreaming with black magnetic walls for darkness on which they may hang pictures that they make. One interior wall mirrors a landscape, while the opposite wall is meant to be a blank canvas with limitless possibilities. All of Jacob’s block toys which were donated by CT Block Party, can be interlocked onto the surface of the walls and played with.
The house is equipped with the latest technologies as any 3D Lab should be. It has solar panels and a thermostatically controlled solar fan to adjust the temperature of the heat or air conditioning. The lights are high tech LEDs that run on circuits, allowing for maximum power with little energy use.
Yurkiw also added the world’s first solar powered, wireless, 3D printer donated by TIKO 3D who, in the spirit of giving, allowed him to bypass the long waiting list for this new invention. To further integrate the melding of the digital world with the physical, he installed a 3Doodler, which is like a pen; but instead of using ink, it squeezes out plastic to create 3D objects; and an Occipital Structure Sensor. This device attaches to an iPad and captures objects and environments in 3D. It sends the information to the 3D printer to produce a 3D model.
“If Jacob is playing with his toys in the physical world, I wanted to inspire him to think also about the digital world he enjoys playing in as well, to start creating what doesn’t yet exist. Things we use on a daily basis were created by somebody who thought of something that didn’t yet exist,” says Yurkiw.
And what did Jacob think of his dream house?
“We all thought it was very, very cool. Jacob was thrilled that it looked so much like it was made from oversized bricks. He was extremely excited to have his own playroom and couldn’t wait to show his friends,” says Jacob’s father Wayne.