CLEVELAND — At Case Western University's think[box], a brainstorming session is underway.
It's the end of July, and several young men from Cleveland Metropolitan School District's School of One at The Foundry program, are working hard on a unique project.
Their friend, 17-year-old Jimmil Campbell, needs their help. He lost his hand to an infection as a baby. As part of the their curriculum, the students row. But, with one hand, Jimmil can't do it like his friends.
"My whole life, I just wanted to be equal ... I just wanted to be like everybody else," Jimmil told us.
The endless mocking of his disability from his old classmates, didn't make him feel that way. He learned to ignore it.
"I had to laugh it off because I didn't want to look soft in front of people," Jimmil said.
Now, Jimmil is with his new classmates. Some, not expected to graduate or attend college. Then, an opportunity presented itself: An alternative education program at the School of One, working with The Foundry, Cleveland's Community Rowing and Sailing Center.
Since being a part of it, these students are thriving. The new environment is working for them. Some, say they didn't stand a chance in their old one.
"My traditional classroom setting, it wasn't working because I [saw] it in my grades," said 17-year-old Jalen Baldwin.
Being part of a close team, makes all the difference.
"If you don't understand something, I know I have my classmates that are going to be able to help me," 16-year-old Tyrone Henderson told us.
The work is life changing, because, in their new world, they didn't need a teacher to show them how to be there for their friend. On their own, they decided to build Jimmil a hand -- a rowing hand -- so he could do it just like them.
The man behind the idea, was Jimmil's best friend, 18-year-old Mario Hull.
"We [were] here for for one purpose: Let him row with two hands, and we made that work," Mario said.
The two are inseparable. Mario says, they're family.
"He's not my friend, he's my brother," Mario told us.
For a week, the boys woke before the sun came up to design Jimmil's hand. They developed, then tested ideas. Each one was engaged, each one was dedicated to the mission.
Jimmil was over the moon. Overcome, as well, with a gesture that was about to change the game.
"I just wanted to show everyone that I'm grateful, because they didn't have to do anything for me," Jimmil said. "They did it because they wanted to. I had to go to the bathroom because I was tearing up."
A few weeks after their brainstorming session, it was time to test out the hand they had built for Jimmil.
He took his place in the lead seat, and began to row in The Foundry's rowing tank: "On my count: 1-2-3!"
Now, all of his doubts, all of those feelings of not knowing his place, floated away. No more uncertainty, just the emergence of a leader, always destined for the front of the boat.
"When I get on the rowing team, I'm for sure going to be the leader. I'm going to be the first one in that seat, ready to row," Jimmil said. "Ain't no stopping me now."
All along, his friends were finding their place, too. A group of boys, once not seeing their educational paths, now a brotherhood of teamwork, tenacity, and triumph.
To learn more about the School of One, click HERE.
For more information on The Foundry, click HERE.