Recycled Rest turns used plastic bags into mats for the homeless
BEDFORD, NH – Tackling the problems of both homelessness and the need to recycle, Kaitlyn Dinndorf has earned the Girl Scout Gold Award for her project, Recycled Rest. The Gold Award is Girl Scouting’s highest achievement.
The rising senior at Bedford High School had not encountered homelessness in her day-to-day life, but a trip to Jamaica and participation in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar through her school opened her eyes, she said. “If I don’t know about this, my classmates don’t know this.” She wanted to do something to help.
Her youth minister, Carrie Soucy at St. Elizabeth Seton Church, had heard of taking discarded plastic bags, turning them into “plarn” (plastic yarn), and using that to crochet mats for the homeless.
“Over a year ago, she asked me if I had ideas or thoughts on what she could do,” Soucy said. “A cousin of mine had told me about this plarning thing.” As youth minister, Soucy said between the youth group, the women’s guild, and the prayer shawl group, along with help from Girl Scouts, they could make these mats. Kaitlyn was soon off and running with the project.
“First, I taught myself how to make plarn,” she said. “I learned how to cut the plastic bags, taught myself how to crochet. The crochet hooks were large! I don’t do a lot of crafts, but I wanted to learn how to do it.” It took quite a few hours to get the hang of it, she said, but then she taught her mother and sisters how to do it. She said it takes 500 to 700 bags to create one mat – and she estimates that nearly 46,000 bags went into the 61 mats that she and others ultimately donated.
“I had a lot of people collecting bags for me!” Kaitlyn said. “I ended up working with four communities in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts. Between those, we were able to collect quite a few plastic bags. Our whole living room and dining room were filled with bags! I was working with a nursing home, and they said they had extra bags. I walk in and they had, like, three or four boxes, big boxes, of extra bags.”
Her mother, Linda Dinndorf, said Kaitlyn had to coordinate many people, acting as a distribution center. “It was a supply-and-demand chain for a good six months. Trying to balance it all was a lot of work.”
Sometimes bags came from unexpected sources. When a helpful person at the Hillsborough County Nursing Home posted a notice about bags being needed and that they could be taken to the recreation center, they didn’t specify that it was the nursing home rec center. The next thing Kaitlyn knew, the Goffstown Recreation Department had called the Girl Scout council wanting to know what was going on. Fortunately, once the town understood the goal, they were happy to be a drop-off point for the project. “You get an overwhelming number of bags when you ask for them,” Kaitlyn said.
Teaching the skills, making the plarn and mats, and coordinating everything was not the end of the project, however. Kaitlyn also had to get the goods into the hands of those who need them.
Soucy said she works with the Exorcist Motorcycle Ministry, which was willing to take the mats. Anthony Nazzise said his group is a motorcycle-based ministry for people who enjoy riding, witnessing for Christ, and ministering for those in need. On June 29, working through Harmony Home in Manchester, they distributed the lightweight, waterproof, bug-resistant mats. “They loved the bed rolls and were very grateful for all of Kaitlyn's hard work” he said. “I probably told the story of the effort and number of bags around 20 times.”
“What I think is really unique about Kaitlyn’s project is that she got so many people involved,” said Soucy. “She mobilized all these people. I wish I could do something like that! She learned to crochet just for this. She taught one session with the junior high. She was teaching adults.”
Soucy said the church hopes to continue the plarning production and mat making, sustaining Kaitlyn’s project into the future.
Kaitlyn said the Recycled Rest project ultimately involved 13 groups and 160 people, creating plarn and crocheting mats. She said she wants to recognize family, neighbors and friends; the Hillsborough County Nursing Home; the Bedford Women’s Club; Carlyle Place; the St. Elizabeth Seton Women’s Guild, Youth Group and Prayer Shawl Ministry; Ridgewood Center Nursing Home; the Griffin Free Public Library crochet group in Auburn; four Bedford Girl Scout troops; the Goffstown Recreation Department; the Lurgio Craft Club; The Maple Ridge Community; and the Exorcist Motorcycle Ministry for delivering the mats.
Service to others is central to Kaitlyn’s life. She has also earned Girl Scouting’s Bronze and Silver Awards, and is looking toward a career in the military. Both her parents were in the Air Force. “I’ve just always wanted to go into the military,” she said. “I have a good sense of service before self. I was raised that way. It’s what I believe in.”
While Kaitlyn and her volunteers spent more than 1,000 hours on her project, the only financial cost to her was a $4 crochet hook. The benefits were huge, though, taking so many plastic bags out of the waste stream, giving nursing home residents and other volunteers a sense of purpose by creating plarn and mats, and easing the lives of those experiencing homelessness with the mats. Recycled Rest is what earning the Gold Award is all about – making the world a better place.
Kaitlyn Dinndorf has lived up to the Girl Scout’s G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ philosophy throughout her Girl Scout years. Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is proud to honor her as a Gold Award Girl Scout. Gold Award Girl Scouts are eligible to enter the military at a higher enlisted rank, gain college scholarships, and are recognized as young women of courage, confidence and character.
About Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains: Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains is recognized throughout New Hampshire and Vermont as a leading expert on girls. Our Girl Scout Leadership Experience is a one-of-a-kind leadership development program for girls, with proven results. It is based on time-tested methods and research-backed programming that helps girls take the lead—in their own lives and in the world. Through our exciting and challenging programs, Girl Scouts not only participate but also take the lead in a range of activities—from kayaking, archery, and camping, to coding, robotics, financial literacy training, and beyond! Serving more than 10,000 girls throughout New Hampshire and Vermont, girls discover the fun, friendship, and power of girls together. Visit www.girlscoutsgwm.org.