In 1977, while Garner Holt was still in high school, he founded an animatronics company from his parent’s garage in Redlands. Today, Garner Holt Productions has a large production facility, studio and nearly 100 employees. His company has produced animatronics for Chuck E. Cheese, Disney parks, and high-profile attractions throughout the world. The company’s mission has always included a desire to educate, inform and entertain, and branched out to providing school programming.

Garner Holt Education through Imagination offers hands-on programs which utilize animatronics, introducing students to new career possibilities. Students in the program explore the fields of science, technology, arts and mathematics (STEAM) while building and programming animatronics of their own. This program is offered through school districts, but the organization wanted to do more to reach children who didn’t have opportunities through their schools.

Garner Holt Foundation was founded in 2019 to provide scholarships for under-served youth to attend its Animatronics Academy Career Camp. Currently, the program has focused on serving foster and homeless youth.

“We believe that this program could increase levels of hope, helping them understand there is a future in front of them that is bright,” Ryan Rainbolt, President of Garner Holt Education through Imagination and Chairman of the Board of Garner Holt Education Foundation said. “They can have things that excite them deeply and many times we are helping them to discover what these things are.”

The Foundation felt this was particularly important considering how challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been for the average student. The last two years have probably been even harder for those who are homeless or challenged in other ways, Rainbolt said. In addition to giving children hands-on experience, the program embeds research from Gallup to include emotional and social learning and a sense of belonging.

So far the Foundation has hosted animatronic camps for San Bernardino and Redlands students. Participants are given a 6-function Animatronics Songbird Kit. They learn electrical and mechanical engineering, voice acting, script writing and figurine building. When the program is complete, students take home their fully built and programmed songbird which can be reprogrammed over and over.

“There aren’t a whole lot of resources for kids who want to tinker, and we want to fill that gap and give them a safe place to grow, Rainbolt said. “Our intent is to provide STEAM experience, but they come also away with a level of self-confidence.”

The Foundation has a 9,000-square-foot building across from the Garner Holt factory which it is transforming into Garner’s Garage, a creative place where youth will be able to discover and pursue their own dreams. Currently, the Foundation is run by Garner Holt employees who volunteer their time.

Recently, The Garner Holt Foundation received a Community Impact Grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation and hopes that this first grant will get their foot in the door to encourage more community support. Ultimately, the Foundation envisions the program growing to serve communities across the country, offering a safe place for youth to learn, create and discover possibilities for careers tied to STEAM.

The Foundation will be offering its next animatronic camp in July of 2023 and plans to recruit new volunteers when the date gets closer.

“The most important thing we do is to help instill a level of hope that kids didn’t have before engaging with us by creating experiences that ignite imagination and creativity.”

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This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, October 2022

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