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Teens Create Monster Pals for Refugee Children from Recycled Materials

Apr 08, 2016 09:10AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Tori La Rue | tori@mycityjournals.com

South Valley - Emily and Josh Van Wagoner said they started their service project as part of a First Lego League competition. Now, three months later, the siblings and two of their friends continue to expand the program, sharing their service project with people across the valley. 

Emily, 15; Josh, 13; Allyson Petersen, 13; and McKade Swallow, 13, signed up for Lego League, a global robotics and innovation program, where they were tasked to find a way to reduce waste in landfills, Emily said. 

The teens learned that textile waste gives off carbon dioxide emissions and takes up more space in landfills than most other types of waste. They figured if they could repurpose the textile, it would reduce landfill waste and help the environment. 

After seeing monster pal stuffed animals on Pinterest, the team decided to make these pals for refugee children using textile waste, Pam Van Wagoner, Emily and Josh’s mother, said. Their project encompasses a dual purpose — helping the environment by reducing textile waste found in landfills, and helping refuge children by giving them handmade toys.

After the Lego League competition, a poodle skirt company, the Hip Hop 50s Shop in Bluffdale, volunteered to donate their textile waste to the team on a weekly basis, so they wanted to continue their project, Emily said. 

“We wanted to continue, because there are so many problems in the world,” Josh said. “If we can help in a small way, it will help in the long run.” 

The group makes monster pals and distributes monster pal creation packets to other community organizations, Van Wagoner said. The packets include textile waste and instructions.

So far, the group has made nearly 200 monster pals and distributed about 400 more to community members who wanted to help the cause.

“To see that our project is actually working and see people help out is amazing,” Emily said. 

The group’s next big project initiative is to get more families, clubs and youth groups to join in their service project during the Global Youth Day of Service, April 15 through 17.

Emily, Josh, Allyson and McKade will hand out supplies at the Entheos Academy in Kearns on April 15 for those who want to make monster pals, according to Van Wagoner. After the day of service, the group will take the monster pals to refugee shelters in Salt Lake City.

“We’ve already shared the idea with a bunch of different people,” Emily said. “Our school is doing it, LDS institutes are helping and the Salt Lake County 4H club.”

Community members do not need to come to Entheos Academy to participate in the textile waste project. Groups can request packages containing the supplies and do the project on their own time.

“There’s so many people who want to help, but don’t have the time to go out and do a big project, but this project gives them the opportunity in a way that’s manageable,” Van Wagoner said. “After they complete the project, they can bring the monster pals back to us, and we’ll take them to refugees, or they can donate them to a charity of their choice.” 

Participants in the project do not need to be sewing experts or need to have sewing machines, Van Wagoner said. The group distributes monster pal sewing plans of varying difficulties, some of which require only rough hand-stitching.

Emily said her group has also started making rice heating and cooling packs out of textile waste for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She said the group’s goal is to reuse textile waste in any way that will help other people. 

This is not a project that will end after the day of service, Emily said. The group is looking to set up a website to share their service project with more people.

Until the website is up and running, those interested in the monster pals textile waste project can send an email to pmpforkids@gmail.com.  

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