AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM FOCUSES ON PEACEMAKING

Article from Fall 2011

Where does conflict originate? Sister Ann Perrin, CND, LMFT, believes it is born in a distraught soul. People in turmoil are those most likely to be engaged in conflict. Peaceful people -- people with tranquil hearts and souls -- are, in a way, conflict-proof. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to rattle a peaceful person enough to draw them out of their serene center. Sister Ann and Gerianne Barber NCC, LPC built the "Peacemakers" program upon this central premise: that peace begins within. As Ms. Barber says, “If you play to your strengths, your weaknesses are less apparent.”

Since its inception in 2006, the goal of the Peacemakers afterschool program – an initiative of the Leahy Community Health and Family Center – has been to provide a space and experience where children can explore the meaning, history and vision of peacemaking and actually work together to make it happen. The program exemplifies St. Jerome’s famous entreaty to: "Be at peace with your own soul, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you."

Ms. Barber, a licensed counselor and University of Scranton professional staff member, facilitates the Peacemakers program twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. At present, 16 children between the ages of 9 and 12 and several University of Scranton graduate students meet with Ms. Barber each Friday afternoon to explore ways to find peace within and to extend that peace to the outside world. 

Peacemakers is a thematic program. So each week we explore a different theme. For example, week one's theme is 'What is peace?' and 'What does it mean to be a peacemaker?' The graduate students who represent various counseling programs are tasked with developing their own activities to explore the themes, so it's different every time.” This allows for creative programming that is tailored to the specific group of children.  

This fall, during week one, the graduate students gave the children art supplies and asked them to make name tags that reflected themselves and the theme of peace. During activities such as this if disrespectful interactions arise such as grabbing for art supplies or not listening  it provides a “teachable moment”, for the graduate students to ask the children to think about what a peaceful approach to distributing the supplies  or engaging in an activity might look like. 

Ms. Barber is adamant that Peacemakers is not an anti-bullying program. “Ours is a 'pro relationship' approach. We don't teach 'what not to do.' We teach 'what to do.' It is a program of cooperation and praise rather than competition.” Ms. Barber believes that the emphasis on peace within builds self-assurance and self-esteem in children that will help them respond in new and positive ways when they encounter conflict.

At the end of each of the six sessions, the children find ways “to be peaceful with themselves” through journaling and deep breathing exercises. “It's really cool to see 16 kids sitting cross-legged on the floor – some laying down --- and 10 graduate students and it's a Friday afternoon and you can hear a pin drop,” Ms. Barber says.

The children leave each session with a letter written by a graduate student to the child's family explaining what was done that day. “So there's a take-home message,” Ms. Barber says.

The various themes of the program include: What is peace; Peace Between persons; Peace with our bodies; Peace with the Earth; Peace in our World; and a Celebration of Peace, which is the concluding session with a party. On a humorous note, “peace with our bodies” is explored every week through a healthy snack. “We go through the food pyramid,” Ms. Barber says. “So one week, we have fruit, another week grain and so forth. But at the end, we just have the party and a lot of sugar.”

Peacemakers is open to all children. Participants in the program are recruited through the Leahy Clinic, Nativity Church and St. Paul and St. Peter Church in Scranton, Catholic Social Services, The Scranton School District and University of Scranton staff. Ms. Barber says, the more diverse the group, the more “impactful” the program is.  For information about Peacemakers, visit their website or call 570-941-6112.

The Peacemakers program is supported by the Scranton Area Foundation, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and Gerrity's Supermarkets.