Upcycling ReStore Treasures For A Sensory Therapy Pirate Ship

I will shop at the Restore

Fill my basket with a recycled hunk;  

Create something special

From somebody else's junk;

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.

I will build it, then sail it.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.


“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.” Did you sing that song as a child? Or perhaps your kids or grandchildren sing along as they watch animated shows about bold and boisterous pirates who are jolly despite having lost a leg or an eye, complete with their wise-cracking parrot perched upon their shoulders. Everybody loves pirates, right? At least, kids do.


In 2017, Ryan Abbott found a retired UPS van with over 300,000 miles, saved it from the scrap heap, and transformed it into a pirate ship that he christened, Pile of Ship. It became a mobile interactive learning center and museum for autistic kids. Ryan remembers, "We had been looking for a place to build, but were not having any luck. But we don't sit around and contemplate stuff—we go out and get stuff done, so we decided to go with a mobile museum." The project took Ryan over the four months to complete single-handedly by dedicating 40+ hours per week (on top of his full-time job).


As a parent of an autistic child, Ryan understands the special needs and learning difficulties that challenge children with autism. That's why, with seed money of his own and a few thousand dollars in grants, he set up a new non-profit organization: That Kid Place. His Pile of Ship and other projects create sensory experiences for all children, but are especially important to kids with autism. Ryan’s pirate ship became a pilot project with which he could experiment with ideas and get his footing with non-profit programming. The message he hopes to convey is: “Look at what I've managed to do with an old truck; imagine the awesomeness I could create with a full-sized building!”


A fabricator by trade for the past 25 years with over 20 creations to his credit, among them a “Zombie Ambulance”, Ryan can build and customize a car from scratch within nine months. His efforts with That Kid Place are an evolution of what he has been doing with scrap yard and junked car rebuilds and restorations for many years.


What makes Ryan’s pirate ship so special is that all of its recycled innards were crafted from building materials found at the ReStore. Ryan is a frequent ReStore shopper, donor, and former volunteer. He explains, "I like being able to repurpose stuff. What I'm shooting for is to find things that nobody else found value in. Rather than buy new materials, I prefer to make something from nothing. Like with the UPS truck--I gave it a second life, found something good in it. I had a 30-mile commute to work and the ReStore was right on the way. I even found two pianos there and they've been repurposed in the pirate ship."


Ryan can pack various exhibits inside the 30-foot truck as he drives to local events like fairs, festivals, and Halloween shows. He unpacks and sets up the exhibits, then kids are welcomed aboard. In describing the environment of the ship, Ryan notes, "the medicine of the ship is hidden—it's like an aspirin in a burrito, meaning that to the kids, the therapeutic aspects are not blatantly obvious. Kids don't feel like they're going to therapy. I actually consider it a compliment when people can't find the sensory elements." The interactive ship boasts sensory therapy in the form of a shaving cream station, sound and light therapy with a piano, stringboard, drum set, accordion, and LEDs spanning the color spectrum in varying degrees of brightness. There's also a cave onboard the ship where those who look up at the ceiling get the treat of seeing a T-Rex glaring down at them.




During events, Ryan’s intention is to step back and "let the focus to be on the kids, allowing them to play and have fun as they run the ship. You see, autistic kids are taught how to approach people. If they're running a pirate ship, other kids are going to come over to them and they won't have to work as hard at social acceptance. People will come up and approach them rather than the other way around."


In addition to his current exhibits, Ryan plans to add a business training module to teach the older kids to sell t-shirts and other merchandise via point of sale transactions on an iPad with the help of their parents. If Ryan sees the growth and expansion he’s hoping for, he’s planning on many more visits to the ReStore for more supplies.


After using the mobile museum to promote That Kid Place in 2018, Ryan’s goal for 2019 is to secure sufficient funding to move the museum to a permanent location. "I love working. I'm a ferocious guy when it comes to making something happen," says Ryan. "The That Kid Place Facebook page is taking off and I'm starting to get more donations here and there."


Visit That Kid Place on Facebook if you’d like to learn more or donate to support Ryan’s vision!


By CeeCee Claire, volunteer writer