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Giving voice to hope: Evergreen resident helps women inmates find 'the summer in life'

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By The Staff

When Sophia’s Sisters raise their voices, crowds of 400 people come to their feet to cheer and sing along with the women’s choir.

And that happens even when the group doesn’t have a captive audience, and is performing outside the prison walls.

The Sisters are part of Unbound Grace, a nonprofit organization that takes arts-based programming inside the Denver Women’s Prison to bring healing to women who have suffered neglect, domestic abuse or other unfortunate circumstances.

Founder Kerry Kurt of Evergreen started Unbound Grace about three years ago. She came to Colorado from Vermont, where she had worked with the homeless and troubled teens, to attend the Iliff School of Theology. It was during an internship at a youth detention center that Kurt says she felt the call to help women.

According to Kurt, the main premise of the program is that people are not disposable and can once again become a vital part of productive society.

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” Kurt said. “Up till now, they have experienced the winter of their life, and I think they deserve the opportunity to experience the spring and the summer in life. Some have had very difficult and unwanted experiences.”

The first phase of Unbound Grace begins with arts programs inside the prison. Kurt estimates that more than 100 women have participated in the Sophia’s Sisters choir.

“This is not just a sing-along,” Kurt said. “These women are learning how to read music; they are learning how to create harmonies. They use their own skills to create something beautiful.”

Manageable Mud is a program that teaches the women pottery and sculpture skills. Creating works of art provides a constructive metaphor for rebuilding and reshaping traumatized lives.

“Art in itself is a way of communicating and healing,” says Kurt. “Artists know this; it is something intrinsic.”

The second part of the program is a partnership with Outward Bound called the Wilderness Challenge Experience, which offers a challenging environment to build teamwork skills. Unbound Grace is planning its first backcountry trip July 1-10, and Kurt will participate in every aspect of the outing. If the women successfully complete the Wilderness Challenge Experience, they will be invited to take part in the final phase of the program.

ASisterance is a three-semester internship in which individuals would work with participating corporations and community and nonprofit organizations, gaining skills, training and support to prepare for rejoining the community.

The intern would work at the internship site four days a week. The fifth day would be spent with Kurt and her staff in a classroom environment learning skills such as resume writing, interviewing, money management, nutrition and physical fitness, and community service.

Unbound Grace is seeking to expand these working relationships with companies and organizations willing to discuss the benefits of employing the interns.

“It is based upon the idea of the old-fashioned, ‘you start in the mailroom,’ ” Kurt said. “In big corporations, it used to be you start in the mailroom, and from there you learn how that corporate infrastructure works. It is so educational.”

Kurt says the women know the program will be a challenge, but that it is something they want and have been hoping and praying for.

“They just need a chance to prove themselves.”

Proceeds from a Feb. 7 fund-raiser in Evergreen will help provide the arts program with choir directors, pottery and art instructors, robes, musical instruments, and materials such as clay, tools and supplies. It will also help in the planning for participation in the more advanced programs.

The fund-raiser will provide a variety of musical entertainment. Slated to perform are well-known mandolin player Dominick Leslie, cellist Roxanne Tutchton and flutist Holly Gorod. A Gershwin melody will be performed by pianists Jeanette Tanski and Catherine Tran, and an African drum demonstration will be provided by Diana Mapes. Other acts are being added, including the possibility of a performance by Sophia’s Sisters.

There will be a number of donated items available for sale or for silent auction, including artwork, jewelry and a variety of valentine gift baskets. Raffles for items such as gym memberships, health and beauty gift sets, haircuts and more will also be held.

For more information about Unbound Grace, how to donate items for the silent auction, or information on how to get involved in the ASisterance program, contact Kerry Kurt at 303-697-1008 or kerry@unboundgrace.org.

 

Unbound Grace fund-raiser

Unbound Grace will host a Share the Love fund-raiser from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Church of the Transfiguration in Evergreen. The event will feature refreshments and live entertainment, plus shopping for gifts. There will also be a silent auction. Admission is free.