Since spring 2021, Cabrini University’s Wolfington Center has worked with the nonprofit Integrate for Good, located in Creamery, Pennsylvania for their Opening Doors on Campus Program. Bev Weinberg is the founder and executive director of Integrate for Good.
The Sleeping Mat Project
Through inclusive volunteerism and leadership opportunities, the nonprofit collaborates with nearby universities to create a meaningful setting on campus for people of all abilities. One of the project’s programs, held weekly on campus, is the Sleeping Mat Project, where students make mats out of plastic bags which, when finished, are then given to people who are homeless.
Dr. Ray Ward, director of the Wolfington Center at Cabrini University, said, “Cabrini and Integrate for Good first came to partner with one another back in spring 2021. Saleem Brown, who works in the Development of Alumni Relations, approached the Wolfington Center, the Accessibility Resource Center, ARC, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging, ODEIB, about Integrate for Good that would bring people of different mental abilities and backgrounds to campus to do service projects together with students.”
The two came together and met to figure out how to bring the community back together on campus and this seemed like a really great opportunity. It started off pretty small; Integrate for Good just came once a week to small gatherings with students and the Wolfington Center on campus and then continued it again this year.
The nonprofit organization is grant funded, and there was a chance that the partnership was not going to continue this year. However, they ended up getting more funding and are now back on Cabrini University’s campus again for the 2022-23 academic year.
The Sleeping Mat Project takes place weekly. On Nov. 29, it was held at The Grill located in the Widener Center. Natalie Montanez, program director of Opening Doors on Campus at Integrate for Good, said she hopes to see new students get involved in the program.
The organization’s mission statement says it is dedicated to, “Empowering students and adults of all abilities to share their talent through inclusive volunteerism, community leadership, and meaningful employment.”
Through the project, participants build connections with others as they work to give back to the community. Integrate for Good hopes to decrease loneliness among students and community members by offering a volunteer activity that is accessible and fun.
“There are two parts to this project: creating ‘plarn’ and weaving the mats. Plarn is a combination of ‘plastic’ and ‘yarn,’ Montanez said. “To make plarn, we fold, cut, and tie donated plastic bags. Using a loom, we use the plarn to weave the mats. People can choose which part of the project they want to participate in.”
This is also a zero-waste project, as all scraps are donated to Giant Food Stores to create park benches.
Bushra Islam, graduate student working toward her Global MBA, joined five others to help weave mats. She said the event’s long-term goal is, “to help provide resources to the homeless and help provide an opportunity to those who want to help the community.”
More than half a million people in the United States are currently homeless. 66.7% are single people with the excess 33.3% being families. Lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and low wages are common factors that contribute to homelessness.
These individuals either sleep in an unsafe location like an abandoned building or live in a temporary shelter or transitional housing. California has the highest number of homeless people, 161,548, while North Dakota has the fewest 541. By 2022, there will be 13,375 homeless people living in Pennsylvania.
Integrate for Good welcomes people of all abilities, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, and Down Syndrome. The Sleeping Mat Project gives them the opportunity to be leaders and teach others. Any student or community member is welcome to participate in their different events.
For more information about the Sleeping Mat Project and Integrate for Good, visit their website. They also post event schedules at both local universities and community locations.