When Paige Young set out to help impoverished orphans in Haiti, she found inspiration in an unlikely source: blue surgical wrap.
The sturdy, waterproof fabric is used to wrap sterilized surgical tools for operations. It is discarded before the tools are used, never being contaminated.
A few years ago, Young, a junior at Olathe Northwest High School, learned that most of the blue wrap ends up in landfills and her Girl Scout troop used bundles of it to sew reusable shopping bags.
Now, the Overland Park teen is using the fabric to create backpacks for orphans in Haiti as part of her project for the Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts.
Last Saturday, she held several sewing classes at Hancock Fabric, instructing more than 50 people how to make the backpacks. Young had drawn the pattern based on a backpack she had at home.
Girl Scouts, her family, her friends, and even complete strangers showed up for the classes to help turn her project into a reality.
And Shawnee Mission Medical Center donated about 50 pounds of the blue wrap to her cause.
The 16-year-old Overland Park girl was nearly overwhelmed by the support.
Her passion for helping orphans in Haiti stemmed from a mission trip she took to the country the summer of 2011 with Colonial Presbyterian Church.
“These kids didn’t have backpacks, or even school supplies, and it made me realize how blessed I am,” Young said. “I just really want to help them any way I can.”
She also ended up becoming a role model to several little girls who showed up to take the class.
Troop Leader Sara Koulen of Leawood brought several members of her group out to the class to inspire them.
“Helping a Girl Scout do a Gold Award is a huge honor,” she said. “Everyone knows about the Eagle Scout, but what they don’t realize is that it’s much harder to earn the highest level of achievement for Girl Scouts. The girls who earn the distinction are impressive.”
Laura Apel and Anastasia Weston, the two remaining members of Young’s Girl Scout troop, agree it’s not easy to reach for the Gold Award.
Both girls, juniors at Olathe East High School, are also working towards the same goal.
Apel is sewing sleeping bags for homeless people in Kansas City. Weston is creating a series of public service announcements about prescription drug abuse for Johnson County.
“You have to have passion and prove you are responsible,” Weston said. “It’s a project that really prepares you for the real world. It’s really hard work, but totally worth it in the end.”
“That’s why it’s so important that we all support each other,” she added. “I think Paige has a really cool project and I’m happy to help her sew these bags.”
Young’s mother, Denise, couldn’t be more proud of all three girls. She’s particularly excited to see her daughter’s finished product.
She points out that it is a project that goes way beyond teaching a sewing class.
Now that the bags are finished, Young is going to be busy stuffing each backpack with donated school supplies.
Over Thanksgiving break, she’s heading to Haiti to not only present the backpacks, but to teach the orphans how to sew them, so they can keep the process going.
Her goal is that Shawnee Mission Medical Center will continue to donate the blue wrap material, so the orphans can continue making backpacks, or any other items they need.
She thinks it will be perfect timing, too, since the organization she has been working alongside, The Global Orphan Project, is trying to expand the work of a sewing school at the orphanage.
Her contacts at Shawnee Mission Medical Center are more than willing to keep the relationship going.
“The nurses, the cleaning staff, the desk clerks all love the idea and are thrilled to help out,” said Jackie Dwyer, a physical therapist at Shawnee Mission Medical Center and former Girl Scout troop leader, who has been helping to collect the blue wrap for Young. “Knowing that this material is going to such a good cause motivates them to save it for me. I’m hoping to get Paige out to the hospital so she can meet all the people who are so impressed with her project.”