Jamie Bair literally offered a hand — six, in fact — to a non-profit organization. Bair is the experiential learning librarian at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, working mainly at the downtown Vancouver library. Through her MAKE a Better World program, she and the participants used the library’s 3-D printer to fashion fingers, palms and other parts and string them together with fishing line and tensioning wire into functional hands to give to Enabling the Future, who then passes them on to someone who could use a hand. It’s one of several community service projects she and her group have created.

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Not everyone could crochet, but everyone could cut recycled bags to make the sleeping mats. Photo credit: Jamie Blair

Their first project, in June 2017, was making mats “for people who are maybe living outside,” recalls Bair. The mats were made of recycled bags — a lot of recycled bags.  “It takes several hundred bags to make one mat,” notes Bair, who was happy to be able to use recycled materials and turn them into something useful. The bags are cut into strips and then crocheted into a mat that is six feet long. The group of 58 people of all ages and abilities were able to make 12 mats that they donated to Share. “The man power was cutting. Kids, adults and retirees were all hanging out and talking as they worked.”

Ramona Parks, a Vancouver resident who worked on the mats, found it very rewarding.  “It was time consuming, cutting the strips and rolling them into what they called the ‘pharn,’ the ball.”  But that didn’t matter; she was proud of the mats themselves.  “I didn’t realize they would be so thick and so pretty and be resistant to insects.”  She feels good she could save a person without a home the misery of dealing with bugs as well as everything else.

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There will be 100 happier cats at the Humane Society thanks to the MAKERS program. Photo credit: Jamie Blair

The second project, in July, was for the Humane Society of Southwest Washington. It was making cat toys “so they have something to do while they are waiting to be adopted,” says Bair.  The group used fleece purchased through the Friends of the Vancouver Library, cutting it into strips and then braiding and tying them into knots to create over 100 cat toys.

The merry band of participants, about half a dozen “really dedicated” and the rest often new faces, went on to make “no sew” blankets out of fleece for Project Linus and then, in October, “super hero” capes for kids, which were donated to the Safe Choice, a shelter project of the YWCA.

The MAKE a Better World program is assisted by Senior Library Assistant Marilyn Abbink. “She’s the main facilitator. She leads people through a lot of the projects,” explains Bair. She also works behind the scenes, coordinating and getting things donated.

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The MAKERS sign and group at the Vancouver library. Photo credit: Jamie Blair

Bair remembers it wasn’t a hard sell when she proposed the MAKE a Better World program to the branch supervisors. “They were all on board,” she says. It fit into the annual programming budget, and they got some extra support from the Friends of the Vancouver Library. Bair had heard about the mats and then contacted Share. That went well, too.

Bair keeps her eyes open for new projects and notes that many non-profit organizations will list their needs on their websites. Once she finds a worthwhile and affordable project, she has to do more figuring. “I have to learn it to teach it,” she says, admitting she’s not an expert. “I do prep work, but I’m learning right along with the other people. You never know what is going to come up.”

Not being an expert is part of the idea, though, because she hopes that, in choosing these simple projects, people will feel confident to do the same project on their own. “Our focus is to do low cost projects that people can potentially do at home,” says Bair.

Vancouver Library MAKE
The MAKE a Better World program was able to make and donate six hands. Photo credit: Jamie Blair

Still, there is some learning that occurs. “We had a lot of kids learn how to use tweezers — and patience,” Bair says, especially of the hand project. And, of course, most people don’t have a 3-D printer at home. Not yet, anyway. The Vancouver Library does offer access to their 3-D printer for projects, though. And that’s another thing Bair likes about the project.

“I love that we are the public library, because we can bring in all these people.” By that she means that parents come to her and tell her that certain resources are only available in schools to kids in certain programs or at certain levels, but those tools are accessible to everyone at the library.

MAKE a Better World is open to everyone and occurs the second Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown library.

The program is expected to continue into 2018, Bair says, “as long as there is interest and projects present themselves.”

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