Live with Purpose - August 31, 2021

Making Mats for People Without Homes

By Timaeus Reed

At Goodwin House Inc. (GHI), we believe that everyone deserves a home. The pandemic has made it painfully clear how vital it is to have a safe place for shelter. Unfortunately, this basic security that many of us take for granted is unavailable to far too many people across the nation. Reports from 2020 tell us that there are more than 1,000 people without homes in Fairfax County alone.

The issues of homelessness and economic instability have only worsened with the COVID-19 virus. This is the time for all of us to come together and uplift the less fortunate. Thankfully, residents at one of our senior living communities, Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads (GHBC), have found a way to do their part.

Trude Myers (left) and Nan Allen (right) hold one of the completed plarn mats.

Community Engagement

We have shared in previous blog posts about our commitments to giving back. Goodwin House residents have a long track record of staying in engaged in a variety of ways. Residents make a continued effort to donate supplies and gifts to local schools in the community to support families in need. Last year, residents, staff and members volunteered hours of work to create nearly 200 toiletry bags and more for people without homes and displaced victims of domestic violence. We have even seen residents take initiative on cleaning and protecting our planet and the spaces we share.

Whether they are recycling and composting waste, knitting sweaters for children or gifting funds to charities—it is clear that residents at Goodwin House are proven changemakers. We take great inspiration from their ongoing commitment and dedication to giving back to the world around them.

Making a Difference with Sleeping Mats

Building on this commitment to volunteerism and making a difference, residents discovered a way they could help those who are without homes in local communities.

Residents at GHBC meet weekly to crochet sleeping mats out of recycled bags for people without homes.

“Making these mats not only makes great use out of plastic bags,” shares resident Jamie Gallagher, one of the lead organizers of these group efforts, “it means we can provide something useful to someone in need.”

As they complete these mats, residents donate them to the PathForward Outreach Team, a group of volunteers who provide health, food and wellness services to people without homes in Northern Virginia. The first mats made by GHBC residents were delivered on Aug 9, 2021.

Residents meet weekly in the art room at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads to make mats.

This doesn’t begin to address all the issues that people without homes endure, though it comes from a place of love and a desire to see a better world for those in our community.

Don Helbig, a GHBC Health Care Center resident, found the inspiration to make these ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn) mats when he read a 2019 Washington Post story about others who did the same. He eagerly brought the idea to the attention of Vy Tran, GHBC Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator.

Vy was happy to do her part to bring this idea to Goodwin House. She quickly sourced two wooden looms for residents to turn recycled plastic bags into the strips of ‘plarn’ that are needed. These strips are then crocheted into sleeping mats large enough for most anyone to rest on. Despite most of the volunteers having no experience in a task like this, Don and other GHBC residents got started right away.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 brought the group project to a screeching halt. Goodwin House made the safe decision to pause all group gatherings on our campuses in March 2020. Although Don was the first to get started on the project, he sadly passed away in October 2020 before ever seeing a finished mat. Group efforts would not resume until in June 2021, but COVID didn’t stop some residents from honoring Don and his compassionate heart by continuing production in their own apartments.

Turning Grocery Bags into Plarn Mats

Bev Hennessey (left) and Donna Cornman (right) prepare the plastic bags that are converted to the “plarn” used to weave the mats.

Donna Cornman, one of the first GHBC residents to weave these mats in 2020, was undeterred by the pandemic. It took many weeks and months of taxing, hands-on work, but Donna was determined. Using the strips cut by Don and others, Donna continued crocheting alone in her apartment until.

While Donna was hard at work in her own apartment, fellow GHBC resident Trude Myers was also making progress. After months of work, Donna and Trude finished their first mats in May 2021. Together, they were able to provide individual mats for eight people without homes.

Resident Nan Allen uses a crochet hook to make a mat.

This project has been a wonderful way to increase camaraderie amongst residents as they work together to give back, though it has not been without its challenges.

“Making mats for the homeless is very labor intensive and creating a large plarn supply was an early challenge,” said Jamie Gallagher, resident at GHBC. “While there was much curiosity and interest initially, several residents left the project believing it was beyond their skill level.”

Thankfully, new volunteers arrive in the GHBC art room each week to crochet more mats. Since returning as a group in June 2021, their numbers have nearly doubled. Experienced volunteers have found a way to simplify the process for anyone who joins their group, no matter their skill level. Newcomers like GHBC resident Neale Baxter can contribute by smoothening out the grocery sacks, or removing the bottom seams and top handles from the sacks, or cutting the sacks into 4″ – 4 1/2″ strips or looping the cut strips into long strands. They can also try their hand at learning how to crochet.

“I’ve never done anything like this,” said Neale. “It was a month ago that I first learned. I’m not as fast as the others, but I’m getting better!”

Separating the crocheting process into these different stages makes it easier for everyone to contribute at their comfort level and pace. Take a look at the beautiful job Neale does at crocheting for the first time.

Resident Neale Baxter had never tried his hands at crocheting or knitting, yet he has learned how to make the mats.

The Community Gets Involved

It used to take months of hard work and more than 700 plastic bags to complete just one 3’ x 6’ sleeping roll. There weren’t enough volunteers or supplies for residents to produce as much as they wanted. Thankfully, friends, family and even nearby grocery stores have donated hundreds of plastic bags. Word has spread around our Life Plan Communities about this project, and now the group has enough volunteers and bags to make three or more sleeping mats a month.

We are proud to shine a light on efforts like these at our senior living communities. Each of us can play a role in making the world a better place. It starts with taking a look at your surroundings and finding ways to help your neighbor. Then, find some friends who are willing to start a group to meet the need. Together, you can enjoy good company while knowing you’re also making a difference in the lives of others.

Check out this brief video to see more of these residents at work!

Timaeus Reed is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at GHI. He plans, writes and designs for internal and external campaigns that support all areas of the organization. He relocated from Kansas to D.C. to join the team in the summer of 2021. When he isn’t getting lost in traffic, Timaeus loves listening to live Go-Go music and stand-up comedy.



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