Quilting project affects veritable patchwork of lives

Misty Belgard, Charlcy Miller and Ashley Christinsen (from left to right) wrap up in some of the quilts they have helped to make at the camp. CHRIS NIELSEN photo

NASELLE - What started out as an idea to give female residents something to do with their time has blossomed into a project at Naselle Youth Camp (NYC) which has affected a veritable patchwork of lives in Naselle and beyond.

Since last August, a small group of teenage girls at the camp have been busy working on quilts, which they are making out of old blue jeans - an idea which came from NYC Juvenile Residential Rehabilitation Counselor Kevin Prestegard.

According to Prestegard, it was a visit last summer from some local volunteers who know about quilting that gave him the idea that girls at the camp might enjoy and benefit from a quilting project.

From that point, he found out that several girls knew about quilting and by December they were raffling off a king-sized quilt they had made, which ended up generating $300. This money was then given to the Wahkiakum County Food Bank.

"I suggested making the quilts out of material from the bottoms of jeans from kids in our DNR [Department of Natural Resources] crews," said Prestegard. "Their jeans have to be cut short for the kind of outdoor work they do."

In addition, in the last month the camp has received several donations of jeans, which the girls handily cut into squares for more quilts. From these squares they have since created another quilt which is now being raffled off. Proceeds from this quilt will be split between the Wahkiakum County Food Bank and the Chinook Food Bank.

"I know what it is for people to not have food at home," said Ashley Christinsen, 15, who has been working on the quilting project. "I think it is good to be able to donate for something like this."

But the cutting and sewing haven't stopped there. The girls have also been busy making smaller, twin-sized quilts. These quilts have not been raffled off, but given to Pacific County foster children. Already three of the county's 46 foster children have received their own quilts.

According to Jim Schuttie, a NYC program manager for the camp's female units, this part of the quilting project has had unexpected benefits. He said a lot the girls in the camp have been in a lot of difficult situations and know what it is to be alone and vulnerable, which is why they get so much out of doing something for others, especially those in foster care.

"For me it feels good," said Misty Belgard, 16, a NYC resident who has been working on the quilting project. "I have been in foster care since I was 9 and it feels good to give back to the community and make people feel good, instead of taking something away."

Another girl working on the project, Charlcy Miller, 16, said she thinks giving quilts to the foster children is a good idea because it gives them something of their own to hold on to.

"This is something no one can take away from them," said Miller. "They know it was not given to them for just a little while. They can keep it forever."

The girls at the camp are also working on another project to touch the lives of those who have experienced hardship. They are currently making teddy bears, which will be donated to children who are hospitalized at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

According to Prestegard, when he started the quilting project, he had no idea it would expand to affect so many people as it has in such a short time. He said seeing the level of meaning the project has had for the girls has been very rewarding.

"This is why I come to work - to see this," he said.

Schuttie said the level of support and response to the quilting project has been nothing short of amazing. He said that local and area donations have been coming in steadily - from jeans, to quilting tools and even a sewing machine.

According to Schuttie, due to the positive response to the quilting project, both inside and outside the camp, plans are to enhance and continue the project.

"We don't see any end in sight," said Schuttie. "Our awareness of the therapeutic value and its benefits are something we don't want to stop."

Raffle tickets are available for the over-sized queen quilt the girls have made. The cost is $1 each. Already 100 tickets have been sold. The goal is to sell 1,000 tickets. At this time, the quilt is on display at Naselle branch of The Bank of the Pacific.

According to Prestegard, the girls still need more blue jeans for the quilting project, as well as other materials.

• To purchase a raffle ticket or for more information about making a donation of materials contact Kevin Prestegard at the camp at 484-3238.

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