Inmates at the Montana Women’s Prison create quilts to help raise money for local cancer group

2009-11-11T00:30:00Z Inmates at the Montana Women’s Prison create quilts to help raise money for local cancer groupSUZANNE ADY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
November 11, 2009 12:30 am  • 

Quilter Susan Fish is the first to say her hobby can be painstakingly slow.

“As much of a pain in the rear as this is, it’s worth it,” said Fish as she checked over her recent work — a Dresden Plate pattern quilt stitched with an array of bright yellow, deep red, sage and dark green material.

The hours of work that went into the piece — all in all it took several months to complete — will be worth it. Fish has turned the quilt over to raise money at Saturday’s PEAKS event. Last year, a quilt she helped make brought in $1,500 at the fundraiser.

PEAKS, which stands for  People Everywhere Are Kind and Sharing, was started in 1988 through the Northern Rockies Radiation Oncology Center.

Nedra Brown, a founding member of the group, explained that PEAKS steps in to help recipients financially with everything from rent to groceries to day care costs.

“Some of these patients might be too sick to work and meet everyday living expenses,” Brown has said. “One patient was a mother whose son needed dental work, and she couldn’t afford it. We were able to take care of that so the stress was off of her.”

Initially, PEAKS started with a pair of groups; now there are four in the area with a total of about 100 members. PEAKS No. 1 is made up of people from a Billings neighborhood; PEAKS No. 2, which Brown belongs to, is comprised of a group of female friends; PEAKS No. 3 is from St. John’s Lutheran Home; and the Road Dogs created PEAKS No. 4.

Anyone who goes to the Northern Rockies center for treatment is eligible to receive PEAKS funds, Brown said.

The beauty of the program, Brown explained, is every cent raised goes directly to patients in need.

“We help Billings and the surrounding communities,” she said. “And when we help these patients, we help the whole family.

“We’re all volunteers, and every cent we raise goes to someone in need.”

Brown remembers very specific cases of patients who have been helped with PEAKS funds:

•A man from Cody, Wyo., needed gas money to drive back and forth from Billings for treatment. He had small children he wanted to see as much as possible.

•A young patient and her family were able to get their car fixed and back on the road when they had no funds to fix it.

•A former farmer who could no longer work after his radiation treatments received help with his mortgage and heating bills as winter approached.

In just over 20 years, PEAKS volunteers have raised $500,000.

PEAKS member Linda Bofto came up with the idea for the quilts to be a main attraction for the group’s annual fundraiser two years ago.

Bofto, a retired chemical dependency counselor formerly employed at the Montana Women’s Prison, then enlisted the help of Fish, an inmate at the prison who has been quilting and sewing for about 15 years.

Fish does a number of projects in the hobby room of the prison, including making cards and mending prison clothes. She and a few other inmates are usually working on a quilting project that is donated to a local charity such as the Billings Food Bank, the Gateway House/YWCA and the Family Tree Center. Much of the material consists of scraps donated to the prison by friends and family members.

The situation seems to be a win-win for all involved. Deputy Warden Bob Paul sees Fish and her projects as a “good leadership role” for younger inmates. And Fish just appreciates that the inmates are allowed to embark upon such projects.

“It’s an addiction,” she said. “But a good one.”

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