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Jasmine White wins 'Spirit of Community' award for DIY pet toy project using recycled materials

An effort to put old clothing to good use, and to benefit dogs and cats, has become an award-winning community service effort.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Jasmine White ties together a dog toy made of donated t-shirts and tennis balls.Around Washington County, unwanted T-shirts are being cut up and transformed into dog toys.

At the helm of those efforts is 14-year-old Beaverton high schooler Jasmine White.

White's mission started as a Girl Scouts Silver Award project two years ago when she was still in middle school. She and a fellow Scout named Angela wanted an easy, do-it-yourself way to make toys for pets, without buying new materials.

Since then, the project has grown into an enduring community service effort and White has been named one of Oregon's top youth volunteers.

White, a freshman at the International School of Beaverton, teamed up with her fellow Scout and began soliciting donations of old, used T-shirts via the neighborhood app Nextdoor.

The donated clothing was then cut up, combined with tennis balls donated from an athletic club, and transformed into octopus-shaped toys for dogs or stick toys for cats.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A few different sizes of Jasmine White's homemade dog toys.

Through her 4H group, White began teaching workshops on how to make the pet toys. To date, about 500 toys have been made, either by White or via one of 16 workshops she's facilitated. The project combines ingenuity and sustainability for a chase and/or chew toy that can be made cheaply.

"It's important to keep the pets happy and healthy and the owners happy and healthy too," White said. "I really needed something to use to make these toys and when I realized I could just use donations and re-use a lot of things, it definitely became something I'd rather do than go and buy materials. It's a lot better."

Earlier this year, White was selected as one of two state honorees in Prudential's annual Spirit of Community award — a youth recognition award based solely on volunteer community service. Her award came with a $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip for White and a parent to fly to Washington, D.C., for national recognition events.

"As a Girl Scout, Jasmine had volunteered with her troop at a clinic that provides free veterinarian care for homeless people's pets, and came away from the experience wanting to do more to help animals," Prudential stated in a bio of White on the award website. "She attended a pet ambassador workshop conducted by Oregon 4H Youth Development, and then decided she wanted to teach people 'the importance of playing with their pets to keep them happy and healthy,' she said."

SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHELLE WHITE - Jasmine White (center) teaches a 4H pet toy making workshop to young people.The teen has led workshops through 4H, in public libraries, Girl Scouts, a pet store, and schools. She even set up bins in public spaces, like the Washington County Oregon State University extension office, so others can craft their own pet toys. The bins are complete with materials and an instruction card.

How it's done

White starts by cutting a shirt width-wise just underneath the sleeves. From there, she makes another cut, and braids the material from one shirt with another, to make varying color combos in what looks like "legs" dangling from a tennis ball covered in fabric.

The teen, who has a twin brother, said that ever since she could remember, animals have helped her bridge the gap between shyness and public interaction.

"My entire life has just been mostly animals. I haven't enjoyed doing sports like soccer," she admits.

Her mother, Michelle White, said her daughter was a timid child.

"She wouldn't talk to anybody when she was young, she was so shy," Michelle White said. "But every time we saw this dog walk by, she would say, 'I want to pet that dog so bad,' so I said, 'if you want to pet the dog you have to ask,' so finally she asked and that was her first interaction (with strangers)."

Talking about animals during her workshops or class presentations has helped ease her public speaking fears, White said.

When she's not re-purposing materials into toys, the teen is taking care of her own animals: three pet chickens, three cats and a revolving litter of foster kittens her family takes in to help out local shelters.

Jasmine White said she doesn't know if she'll lead the toy workshops forever, but she's hoping another young person can follow in her footsteps and carry on the project.

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