Odyssey of the Mind team members build and give back at Creativity Festival

Talon Delaney

Thousands of kids from across the world visited the Creativity Festival in the Lied Recreation Center to put their problem solving capacities to the test.

For a day, Lied became a sort of transnational fair. Groups from all over the U.S., China and Canada set up booths with games and activities designed to put their problem solving skills to the test.

“It’s really trying your different intelligences,” said Mandy Sanders, special education teacher and Odyssey of the Mind coach from Georgia. “The kids are working on their problem solving and using their creativity in a conscious way.”

Some of the groups displayed humanitarian projects, like a group from Naples, Florida who used plastic bags to make sleeping mats for the homeless.

The kids use a loom made of PVC pipe to tightly weave plastic shopping bags into mats large enough for an adult to sleep on. The mats are portable and easy to make, and the kids enjoyed making them.

“It feels nice to help others,” said Molly Cope, 9.

Cope and her friend, Jackie Wentworth, spent the day weaving mat after mat, which they called “plarns.”

“We mostly send them to St. Matthews House,” Wentworth said, referring to a Naples-based organization which works to help homeless people in Florida.

According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Florida currently has more than 32 thousand homeless people, while groups like the Florida Coalition for the Homeless puts that figure closer to 35 thousand. Either figure gives Florida the third largest homeless population in the U.S. behind only New York and California.

Wentworth and Cope have been making plarns for nearly a year with their group, and their efforts were rewarded with an Odyssey Angel Award, which are given out to select groups that use their creativity to help the community.

“We were excited,” said Evelina Wentworth, Odyssey coach and mother to Jackie. “It’s the first year that a Florida group won that award.”

Cope, Wentworth and others showed countless others how to weave together plarns during the festival. The simple nature of the woven mats made it easy for anyone to learn the craft.

“I think it’s a great project,” said Odyssey Angel member Karen Kehrli. “It’s very visual, people can relate to it and pick it up. Odyssey does lots of projects that can help people.”

The Naples group weren’t the only ones using plastic bags in innovative ways. Just across the gym, a group from New England worked all day to make the world’s largest chain of plastic bags.

“The plan is to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, and then recycle all of it,” said Lydia Scheuermann. She spent a majority of the festival working with kids, taping together long chains of bags that otherwise would’ve been left outside or in a landfill.

The current record was set in 2015 by students in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Their chain is 40,174 bags long and 9.56 miles long.

“It’s really helpful to have a way to make recycling fun,” Scheuermann said. “The kids are out and about and lose their bags, but this gives them a goal.”