PEAKS distributions topped $30k last year

Nathan Oster

Jade Smith of Shell would appear to have little in common with Denise and Tom Holbert of Powell.   Jade and her late husband Gil have deep roots in the Greybull and Shell area, while the Holberts were among the new arrivals who found their way to this area a few years ago, relocating from Tennessee.

At first, their common thread was a cancer diagnosis. Now it's their unabashed advocacy of PEAKS to Conga — an annual event in Shell that raises money to help cancer patients and their families with their non-medical financial needs while they undergo treatment.

PEAKS is an acronym for People Everywhere Are Kind and Sharing and Laurie (Parker) Stoelk is the longtime organizer of the fundraiser, which traces its roots to the Women Who Ride Conga motorcyclists who gathered in Shell to raise money and awareness in the fight against breast cancer.

This year's PEAKS to Conga fundraiser is set for Saturday, June 24 and it'll again begin with a fully-supported, 66-mile bike ride from Cody to Shell.  

The "Shellebration" that follows will feature massage and yoga in the park, silent auctions, art vendors, a petting zoo, live music throughout the day including a performance by Rattlesnake Ridge from 4 to 8 p.m., along with food and beverage sales.

And the best part is, every dollar raised gets redistributed to those who need help the most.

"Last year, we distributed more than $30,000 worth of grants to people in the Big Horn Basin," said Stoelk.  "Most of the time, they took the form of Walmart or gas cards, but we've also been known to buy lodging, too. It just depends on the need."

Thanks in large part to the success of its fundraisers, PEAKS was able to increase its individual grant awards from $400 to $800 last year. 

"We're giving more away, but in order to keep doing that, we have to continue to raise money," said Stoelk.

For PEAKS to help a person in a cancer fight, the request must come from a provider, she said.


Smith's story

As a member of the Shell community for more than 40 years, Smith is very familiar with the PEAKS to Conga fundraiser. 

"I have been proud to support their efforts as much as I could, never knowing the time would come when I needed that help myself," she said.

Cancer has impacted her life a great deal in recent years.  Her husband of 46 years, Gil, passed away in the fall of 2021, a short time after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Less than a year later, Jade was diagnosed with a form of breast cancer and underwent two surgeries, plus four weeks of radiation treatment in Cody.  Each of those weeks required five 150-mile round trips from her home in Shell.

"The financial help PEAKS to Conga gave me was truly a blessing," said Jade. "It helped me pay for the ever-increasing price of gas, meals and groceries during that time. Knowing I was thought of and cared about during that stressful time in my life means more that I could ever express.

"I know I will continue to support PEAKS to Conga as long as I am able, knowing the difference it made in my circumstances, and I would urge everyone who can, to support their efforts as well. You never know when you or someone you care about needs that 'extra' support as they fight their own battle with cancer."


The Holberts

Denise and Tom Holbert moved to the Big Horn Basin three years ago, seeking simpler lives than the ones they were leading in Tennessee. 

"I'd gone to school in Laramie, and both Tom and I had visited northern Wyoming and loved the mountains," said Denise. "We decided when we retired, we were going to move out here — and that's what we did."

The last thing either of them expected in their twilight years was a cancer diagnosis — but that became their reality last year when Tom was diagnosed with throat cancer. After initially being sent to and considering treatment in Billings, they opted to be treated close to home in Cody.  

For seven weeks, they made that 27-mile trip every single day for radiation therapy. 

PEAKS was there for them, helping with gas and other essentials.

"It was incredible, the support we received," said Denise. "Coming from Tennessee, where the county where we were living had only about 50,000 fewer people than the whole state of Wyoming, one of our big concerns moving out here was health care.

"We were moving to a small town, a rural area, and that's always a little scary.  But I cannot say enough good things.  My husband's had the best care here."

Denise said cancer eventually claimed her mother as well as Tom's mother, but at no point in time did an organization offer to help like PEAKS did.  

"It was something that was really appreciated," she said. "Maybe even more than the actual gift, it was knowing that people were thinking of us, caring about us and wanting to help us."

Tom and Denise came through their cancer ordeal. 

"He's been given a clean bill of health, is feeling great, has put weight back on and is working with no issues," Denise said.  "Through it all, the people have been great. Not only here in Powell but all the support we had through Cody and Billings was phenomenal, just above and beyond in every way.

"PEAKS is such a great thing. We could have probably made it without (support from PEAKS), but I know a lot of people who couldn't.  It's such an incredible service that they provide."

For more information about PEAKS to Conga, contact Stoelk at (307) 272-8766.