St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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A Unique Program for Children to Learn Peace (Local Interest Column)

Frankie Costello and I used to fight a lot in the old days. He was Roman Catholic and I was Protestant at that point in my life. We fought the religious wars of the Reformation era on our Philadelphia streets. When we got to be about thirteen years of age or so, we looked at each other one day and said, “What are we doing this for?” So we made peace. It felt good. It actually felt energizing, since I wouldn’t have to watch out for Frankie pouncing on me on my way home from school.

Nobody questions the human desire for peace. Everybody wants peace, right? The problem is the answer to the question of how to attain it, or the disagreements we encounter on the way to peace. Psychologists have studied phenomena of war and peace for a long time, and many have concluded that there is much more excitement and focus connected with hostile activities than with nonviolent ones. Your energy level rises with hostility because of adrenaline rushes. So does your ability to bond with others who share your viewpoint. Nothing compares with the camaraderie of the trenches, so it seems. So the issue has always been how to make peace as exciting as hostility. Our religious and spiritual traditions address this need, but we need practical help along with theory or theology and underlying reasons. Our emotions need training, as well.

Practical help is on the horizon. A unique opportunity is coming up here in Las Cruces. It’s called Peace Village Camp, and it takes place during two weeks in July. It has the sponsorship of a large number of businesses and religious and community organizations. It provides ways for children to experience alternatives to hostility and violence, and to learn non-violent methods of communication and companionship.

One Camp takes place in the week of July 12-16 and will be held at Temple Beth El, 3980 Sonoma Springs Avenue, from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. This first week is for those in grades 6 through 10 in school.

The second Camp takes place in the week of July 19-23 and will be held at Peace Lutheran Church, 1701 Missouri Avenue, from 8:30 AM to 3:00 PM. The second week is for those in grades 1 through 5.

During these weeks children learn about the roots of violence in society, and in turn learn techniques to deal with violence in themselves and others. Emphasis is on peace-making through conflict resolution and cooperation.

Activities include art and nature studies as they relate to becoming peaceful persons.  Each day has a different theme, and the chief emphasis is moving from greed and disrespect to gratitude and honoring diversity.

The program coordinator is Becca Winship, who is on staff as family ministry coordinator at Peace Lutheran. She is especially excited about the community service projects planned for this year, which include work in the community garden in Vado. She says that one of the best aspects of the program is that it introduces children to different cultures and promotes healthy diversity.

The Camp adult staff also includes Ryan Steinmetz, M.A., and Jane Asche, Ed.D., both of whom have worked with the Camp for the five years of its existence.

Fee for the sessions is $60.00 per week, which includes snacks and materials for all activities. Each week is limited to 40 participants and Ms Winship says that the rolls are filling up fast, so check into this quickly.

Thanks to Rabbi Paul Citrin, who suggested that I donate a column to this truly worthwhile endeavor in our community.