Ohio University

CoLab joins Athens mask-making efforts

Published: April 13, 2020 Author: George E. Mauzy Jr.

During this unprecedented time in our nation’s history, the Ohio University CoLab is doing its part to keep the community safe.

Over the past few weeks, CoLab has partnered with Passion Works and local volunteers to make sure COVID-19 masks are available to area nursing homes and healthcare providers.

CoLab is a physical hub that empowers students to live and grow through innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited large meetings on campus, CoLab hosted Workshop Wednesdays from 8 to 10 p.m. at its location on the third floor of OHIO’s Alden Library.

Matt Thomson, program manager for CoLab, used the workshops to teach students how to use the equipment in CoLab’s new Makerspace area, which had just opened in January 2020 after a successful crowd funding campaign for the space raised about $8,000.

“The Wednesday Workshops exposed our students to different technologies, equipment and tools they may have never used before,” Thomson said. “The sessions were well attended and had high levels of engagement.”

During one of the Workshop Wednesdays, students learned how to use the Makerspace sewing machines.

“We taught straight-stitch for students to make microwave-heated aroma therapy rice bags,” Thomson said.

After the workshops were canceled for the rest of the semester, Thomson came up with the idea to continue the workshops online since they were already funded by an OHIO Makes Academic Innovation Accelerator Program grant for the spring 2020 semester.

“We wanted to find a way to be creative and still engage with our students in a way that meets the mission of CoLab’s programming,” Thomson added.

On Wednesday, April 8, Thomson used CoLab’s Twitter account to share images of local people making and receiving COVID-19 cotton masks.

The following was the thread Thomson shared on Twitter at @OHIO_CoLab:

Tweet 1: “@ohio.university @OHIO_CoLab had been running weekly programming out of their new Makerspace in @Aldenlibrary until the COVID-19 Pandemic, this week CoLab wanted to highlight a project that they have been assisting with in the Athens Community in place of their #workshopwednesday’s series #athensOHIOmakesmasks #workshopwednesdays are a collaborative event held in CoLab every Wednesday night from 8-10pm sponsored by @ohio_colab @OU_involvement”


Tweet 2: “CoLab has been working alongside countless OHIO faculty/staff and Athens Community members in the production of much needed cotton face masks. @Passionworksstudios has been a leader in the community with this task with generous support from @OU_Involvement @myhvbonline @OHIO_CoLab @zonezofathens and Dr. Lavelle at Athens Dental Arts #athensOHIOmakesmasks”


Masks - Patty Mitchell of Passion Works
Patty Mitchell, CEO and founder of Passion Works, is helping the Mask Makers of Athens create thousands of COVID-19 masks for the Athens community.


Tweet 3: “There are countless patterns and ways out there to make your own mask, but the CDC is now recommending that anyone going out in public wear something to cover your nose and face, even if it is just a scarf. Take a look at some of the ways in which our local makers are making their masks! Check out ohio.edu/colab/masks for recommended patterns and processes. #athensOHIOmakesmasks @passionworksstudio @OHIO_colab @OU_involvement”


Tweet 4: “@OHIO_colab encourages all to look in their home community for similar efforts being championed by local efforts. The team in Athens is consistently growing and the support from local businesses has been fantastic. @ohiofinearts Professor of Art Melissa Haviland has been coordinating efforts with a group of their students to help make 1,000 masks for Appalachian Behavioral Health professionals! #athensOHIOmakesmasks @passionworksstudio @OU_involvement”


Masks - Melissa Haviland
Professor Melissa Haviland and her students are making 1,000 masks for Appalachian Behavioral Health


Tweet 5: “We hope that some of you will be inspired to feel confident enough to make some masks on your own! Be sure to tag us in your photos, and use the hashtag #athensOHIOmakesmasks @ohio.university @passionworksstudio @OU_involvement”


Thomson said the goal of the tweets was to encourage OHIO students to make their own masks at home, which could help their family members and people in their community remain healthy and safe during the pandemic.

From now through the end of spring semester, Thomson plans on using the workshops to teach students ways they can make an impact on the fight against COVID-19 and also share uplifting and informational images and videos related to the pandemic.

Thomson said CoLab’s community collaboration started when he found out that Patty Mitchell, the CEO and director of the local Passion Works studio, was in the midst of a COVID-19 mask-making project.

The Passion Works Studio is a collaborative community arts center with a core group of practicing professional artists with developmental differences.

“Passion Works were asked to make more than 1,000 masks for local nursing homes,” Thomson said. “That caused me to reach out to Patty to see if she needed additional equipment or supplies for the project.”


Masks for the Lindley Inn
A Lindley Inn employee models her new COVID-19 prevention mask


Mitchell said one of the things that made a collaboration with CoLab easy was the fact that she already had an established relationship with Thomson.

“Because I’ve been collaborating for years with Matt through his previous job at Ohio University, our connection was strong,” Mitchell said. “When he asked me if he and CoLab could join our mask-making project, I said ‘Of course.’”

Since CoLab’s Makerspace is new, Thomson said it had a fair amount of supplies, including some nice cotton fabric and elastic strips that are currently in high demand.

“We were able to donate some materials, threads, and elastic that we had left over from our previous events,” Thomson said.

Mitchell said Thomson gave her everything he had and the elastic he donated is like gold.

“We were able to make a good number of masks for the nursing home with that elastic,” she said. “It helps the masks fit well, especially for people who are moving around all day.”

Mitchell also credits Thomson for being able to pull some funding together so that they could jump right into the mask-making process.

“He was fantastic about recognizing what was needed and doing what he had to do to leverage funds to be able to get our first materials to get going,” Mitchell said. “That put us ahead of the curve. Matt has been absolutely generous and we’ve problem solved, communicated and supported each other.”

Thomson has also been hands-on during the project. He has used CoLab equipment to cut out the masks before he delivers them to local sewers who finish the masks.

Heather Harmon, an OHIO professor in community health in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, has been another key volunteer to the project.

Harmon said the Mask Makers of Athens are still looking for sewers to join their team of volunteers. They can sign up on the group's Facebook page located at https://www.facebook.com/groups/maskmakersofathensohio/.  

Mitchell said Harmon has done a great job of keeping track of where the masks are going and the outstanding needs in the community.

“I haven’t met her, but she is on the ball and highly organized,” Mitchell said.

Many of the completed masks have already been delivered to the Appalachian Behavioral Health (ABH) Hospital and several nursing homes.


Masks on a table
Thousands of COVID-19 masks like these are being sewn for the Athens community


The mask-making collaborative, aka “The Mask Makers of Athens,” is also benefiting from the work of OHIO Professor of Printmaking Melissa Haviland and her student volunteers.

Haviland is working with about eight Fine Arts students and a few community volunteers to fill an order of 1,000 masks for Appalachian Behavioral Health (ABH).

She said she became involved when a neighbor forwarded her an email from ABH that requested 1,000 masks for their employees.

She said she didn’t want to make masks for local health care workers because she knew they prefer the medical-grade masks which provide better protection than the cotton ones she could produce.

Haviland said the fabric masks are sufficient for ABH workers because they typically don’t work with COVID-19 patients.

“The ABH workers just want to protect themselves and their patients,” Haviland said.

Like Thomson, Haviland said she’s just cutting the mask material and getting it to the sewers in the community. In a little more than two weeks, she will have finished cutting out the 1,000 masks for ABH.

“Since the students are still in school they can only sew them in their spare time,” Haviland said.

She said she’s not sure how many masks ABH has in their possession yet, because she doesn’t see them after she cuts them.

“I just place them on my porch and someone picks them up and delivers them to the sewers,” Haviland said.

Mitchell said the fun thing is seeing the local community come together to create these masks.

“After you go public, people begin asking for masks,” Mitchell said. “I just talked to a company and they want 2,000. Who knows what the demand will be? I’m building a workforce so that we can respond to demand the best way that we can.”

Thomson said the mask-making project has been a true community effort, thanking Campus Involvement Center for being one of the financial sponsors of Workshop Wednesdays and the mask-making project. He also thanked the Nelsonville Quilt Company, which sold him fabric despite being closed for normal business because of the pandemic, as well as Hocking Valley Bank, dentist Dr. Tim Lavelle, and Athens company, Zonez, for supporting the Mask Makers of Athens.

“The City of Athens and Ohio University are intertwined,” Thomson said. “More than half of the people sewing masks are probably Ohio University people, so it’s a cool process to see unfold.”