An intricately beaded one-and-a-half-inch square may seem small, but for women in the College of the Mainland Senior Adult Program, that’s all the space that’s needed to help raise funds for cancer research.

The women are creating the tiny squares as part of the Bead It Forward project. They will send the squares to be stitched into large beaded quilts that will be auctioned to raise funds for breast cancer research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Last year, the project raised more than $19,000 for cancer research.

For many women in the class, the cause of breast cancer research is personal.

“I’ve lost two very good friends from cancer,” said class instructor Barbara Vollmer, who first presented the project idea to her class. They enthusiastically agreed and set out to learn the complex peyote stitch needed to create the squares.

“Some of the girls had to learn it quick,” said student Patsy Jewell.

This year’s theme is “Flowers: Stitching to find a bloomin’ cure” and delicate pink roses brighten many of the women’s squares.

“I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve put in,” said Betty Henry, who has created three squares.

The project isn’t the first challenge the group has tackled.

“When someone brings something, we say, ‘I want to make that, and (we) do it,’” said Jewell.

The group has created necklaces, made beaded nostalgia boxes and repaired jewelry, assisted by Vollmer.

“She’s a great teacher,” said B.J. Janes.

Many participants also take other classes at the Senior Adult Program. Joan Self said she comes nearly every day to a different class to learn everything from computers to mosaics.

“This is the best senior adult program probably in the U.S. We get to socialize with people our own age. We have a good time,” said Self.

Jewell agrees, “We have a lot of laughter.”

For more information about the Senior Adult Program, visit