Students turn recycled trash to sustainable goods

The Net Impact Engagement Team’s new project has students transforming recycled trash into sustainable treasures for people in need.
Woven Treasures meets every second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 3 p.m. where students are gathering to weave recycled grocery bags into mats and pillows for refugees and the homeless.
MCC Civic Engagement Director Duane Oakes developed the idea when he visited his Alma Mater and saw students diligently weaving hundreds of grocery bags for the organization Stitching Hearts Worldwide (SHW).
“As soon as I saw it, I thought ‘We can do this,’” Oakes explained. “I see it as a lot of opportunity for people to be engaged and have fun, and we are always looking for something tied into sustainability.”
Latina Carr, Woven Treasures student leader Latina Carr organizes meetings, handles material donations, and is building relationships with organizations that may be the recipients of the woven mats and pillows. Carr explained students enjoy coming together for a good cause, but the excitement comes from the results of their labor.
“You provide comfort, coziness, and warmth for someone in need,” she said. “Once people see they can make a plastic bag into something so amazing, they are always shocked. The visual is really cool, and then thinking it will be so useful to someone makes you want to keep going.”
Woven Treasures had their first official meeting Aug. 28, and the 15 students in attendance nearly completed one mat in an hour and a half.
“We need more volunteers, because this is a long process,” said student participant, Bene D’Argenio. “It takes a few days to do this with several people, so we could do so much if more people join us.”
D’Argenio and the rest of the students worked side by side tying hundreds of grocery bags together using a giant loom to create the final product. The grocery bags are cut one inch from each end for the mats, and the scraps are thrown together to stuff pillows. The finished product includes a pillow wrapped inside of the mat that is equipped with a long, plastic-bag-string that is used to tie around the rolled up so it can be carried easily.
In late September, SHW founder Krysti Wright will be on Southern and Dobson campus for an event that will show students how to create the mats, and will detail the project’s purpose and future.
“I was able to come to do a training back in May and was very impressed with the leadership of those on your campus who are so willing to work to do whatever it takes to get their students a chance to serve,” Wright said. “MCC is our first satellite group outside of Utah. We are excited to bring you this opportunity and are looking forward to a successful first year as we all work together to bless lives.”
In SHW’s three years of operation they have progressed from sending a few quilts to countries in need of humanitarian relief to now sending shipping containers full of the woven mats, pillows, and hand-made quilts to countries all over the world. Their success comes from thousands of hours of hard work from dedicated volunteers, and Wright says it still amazes her that more people want to dedicate their time.
“I am humbled to see how so many people are making a difference in this quickly changing world,” she said. “So many millions are being displaced, having their lives changed forever. It makes me happy to see how serving is bringing compassion to both the giver and the receivers. People’s hearts are being changed and then stitched together in love. We learn to love those we serve.”
Woven Treasures is one of the newest programs started by the Net Impact Engagement Team. The team is a chapter of Net Impact, an organization that focuses on building leadership skills and encourages students to lead programs rather than faculty. There are more projects in development that Oakes hope will take off soon.
“We have a lot of other projects, and we want to do more. We just need participation and student leadership,” Oakes said. “There are thousands of ideas, but without the students we unfortunately can’t make it happen, so please get involved.”
Woven Treasures meets at 3 p.m. every second and fourth Wednesday of the month in the Jinnett B. Kirk Student Center lobby. The demonstration hosted by Wright will take place Sept. 24 in the Navajo Room from 1-7 p.m. The event is open to everyone.
Boxes will be placed around campus for students to donate grocery bags, pillowcases, and fabrics. To learn more about this program and others contact the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at 480-461-7393.

Cristina Mills is a journalism student at Mesa Community College.

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Cristina Mills is a United States Navy veteran that served five years as a Mass Communication Specialist. Upon leaving the military she moved to Arizona where she lives with her husband, Ron, and English Bulldog, Stella. Cristina attends Arizona State University and Mesa Community College where she studies journalism, and joined the Mesa Legend in January 2020 as the Features Editor.