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Detroit Students Create Recycled Mats and Pillows for the Homeless

Volunteerism is the heartbeat of the school community at Detroit Enterprise Academy (DEA). Giving back to those in need is a personal passion for Emily Gagnon, principal at DEA, which transcends in activities that take place at school.

20 students at DEA partnered with the Motor City Mitten Mission (MCMM) and spent a day making mats and pillows out of recycled plastic bags, which were then crocheted into mats with a strap, tie, and a pillow. This is part of MCMM’s Mats & Pillows Project, the process of taking plastic bags and recycling them to make sleeping mats and pillows for the homeless.

The mats and pillows are made of out a material called “plarn,” which is made by cutting plastic grocery bags into strips, which are then strung together into a single long strand.

“As a believer in community service for people of all ages, I thought plarning would be an excellent service project for our students,” said Emily Gagnon, principal at DEA. “I want students to know that academics are important, but who they are as a person matters the most. Character speaks loudly to who a person is. Having great character produces great citizens!”

According to the MCMM, “These mats and pillows are ideal for our harsh Michigan elements as they are remarkably comfortable and offer just enough to create a barrier between the ground and the body to help retain body heat while sleeping.”

These mats offer a cleaner way of sleeping as bugs do not like them, they clean and dry easily, and are light and portable.

The MCMM is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless, the needy, the sick, and those striving for a better way of life while educating, partnering, and collaborating with a number of organizations, schools, churches, clubs, and businesses.

Gagnon has a close relationship with Gail Marlow, co-founder and executive director of the MCMM, which is what sparked the idea for the project.

Gagnon’s passion for volunteering kicked off in high school through her participation in National Honor Society. Following high school, she continued volunteering to complete different projects, but mainly volunteered at the Children’s Hospital in Detroit. “I learned that kids in the most difficult situations, many who were fighting for their lives, still wanted to be kids and have fun,” Gagnon shared. “I felt such joy spending time with the patients, playing games with them, and keeping them company. I want my students to experience that same feeling.”

Students were amazed at the ball of plarn and how much they were able to create after persevering through the project.

“The day of service reflects on what’s most important because, in order to get anywhere in life, character matters,” said Gagnon. “I am happy that we instill our Moral Focus virtues in our students daily, and I am even happier that our students are able to practice those virtues by giving to others.”

About Detroit Enterprise Academy
Detroit Enterprise Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Byron Center, Michigan, serving students in Young 5s through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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