March 25, 2015
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Published March 24, 2015
By: Susan Bensch
To view the story online, visit: http://www.thevillagesdailysun.com/news/villages/article_84fb64b6-d1de-11e4-92e8-3356eb1fadd7.html.
With a dash of talent and a pinch of patience, 20 volunteers and about a dozen inmates at an Ocala women’s prison make crafts that are touching the lives of countless recipients locally, across the nation and beyond.
Volunteers and inmates work together during three-hour sessions to turn donated materials into a range of crafts, which are distributed through 14 agencies and groups.
“It’s a big program with a lot of recipients,” said Nancy Roberts, the facility’s volunteer coordinator.
The group produces a wide range of items including caps for pediatric patients, which are distributed to hospitals throughout the U.S. by Angel Snugs, and dolls and doll clothing, which go to children in countries including Haiti and Africa via Dollies Without Borders.
Other items created through the program include quilts for infirm and homeless veterans distributed through Vets Helping Vets; greeting cards for military service members as part of Operation Shoebox; and bibs, baby hats and booties for the Infant and Toddler Pantry in Lady Lake.
“They reach out to even the furry creatures at the shelter, making cat hammocks,” correctional services administrator Max Blanks said.
Crafters also make tote bags that go to the Salvation Army and an Ocala domestic violence center.
None of the crafting scraps go to waste.
They are saved and used to fill fabric teddy bears that provide comfort to Alzheimer’s patients.
Crafts with Conviction produces an amazing volume of hand-crafted goods for donation.
In 2014, the total item count was 2,400.
Inmate Judith Leekin alone has made nearly 300 bibs since September using fabric scraps. She works on various projects and loves doing it.
How the items are used is not an abstract idea for the crafters. They receive photos of them with recipients such as Alzheimer’s patients, which they save in photo albums.
“They get to see that; they get that reward,” assistant warden of programs Suzanne McRee said.
Crafts with Conviction is profoundly gratifying for everyone involved.
“To have that sense of being part of the community — even though they can’t be physically present — really builds their self esteem and gives them positive skills,” Roberts said.
For inmates such as Irene Garrett, who has been in the program for two years, the positive reactions are important.
“I like the sense of accomplishment, the giving back to the community,” Garrett said.
As Florida's largest state agency, the Department of Corrections employs more than 22,000 members statewide, incarcerates more than 100,000 inmates and supervises nearly 146,000 offenders in the community.