Spotlight On!

Spotlight On: Laura!

Laura Flann is the mental health program manager at KIPP SoCal.  Her schools, first in Minneapolis and then in Los Angeles, partnered with us three different years.  Laura has been a powerful ally and friend to TGPP.   We’re grateful she’s part of the growing peace family.   Here’s what she had to say when she was a school counselor at KIPP Academy of Innovation.

TGPP:  What is your name and where are you from?

LF:  My name is Laura Flann and I am originally from Minnesota but currently my home is Long Beach, California.  

TGPP:  Describe your role(s) at TGPP.

LF:  I’m not sure that I have an official title, but my role at TGPP would be a staff member from a partnering school.  I am a School Counselor at KIPP Academy of Innovation in East Los Angeles, California and have helped to facilitate TGPP at our middle school this past school year.  

TGPP:  How did you initially become involved with TGPP? 

LF:  I was at a KIPP School Summit about six or seven years ago and heard Jacqueline present to a room full of teachers and other KIPP employees about The Growing Peace Project.  At the time I was a School Social Worker serving KIPP Minnesota, a middle school located in North Minneapolis, and I was always looking for ways for our students to “get out” of their inner-city bubble and work for change in their own lives and community.  So I kept her information and sent a follow-up e-mail. It was about a year in the works before KIPP MN got started as one of TGPP’s partner school. 

TGPP:  How long have you been involved with us? 

LF:  I think it’s been on and off for seven years.  I think something that’s a unique part of my story is that I relocated to CA about four years ago, but kept working with KIPP, so first I was partnering with TGPP at KIPP MN for two years and now just finished a year of partnering with TGPP at KIPP LA.  

TGPP:  What made you want to be a part of this particular organization? 

LF:  I love middle school students so much because they are awakening their awareness of themselves and others.  They are learning how to ignite their passions, get their questions answered, and challenge the system. As a Social Worker, I care deeply about social justice and helping others.  TGPP gives me an avenue to be able to advocate for my students and my community through the conversations and work the students do throughout the project. TGPP allows my students to learn from other students across the country while doing so, which is a “first” for most of them, and helps take their own micro projects to a more macro-level of having diverse learning experiences. 

TGPP:  What is it that keeps you interested and active in continuing your peacemaking efforts with us? 

LF:  I really believe in this opportunity for my students and the long-lasting impact it could have on their future trajectories and greater impact on our society.  TGPP collaborates with students and shows respect for their developmental stages and ways of thinking/ideas. It’s clear that TGPP believes in our students and their impact and possibilities, and that’s what I want my students to feel from me as well.  

Jacqueline and Angelina and the crew are so accommodating and easy to work with as well.  This year we were coordinating calls and activities across three different time zones (Jacqueline in VT, Mike in TX, and us in CA) which wasn’t easy I’m sure but it just went smoothly, which when working in a very busy urban school district, I can’t say that happens often. 

TGPP:  What does a typical Retreat day look like?

LF:  It’s been years since I’ve been, but I remember wide-open green spaces, lots of food, lots of fun, and again, lots of “firsts” for our students- whether it be getting on a plane, being on the East Coast, hanging out with people that are culturally different than them, trying a vegetarian diet, swimming, etc.  I will be attending the retreat with my students in August and am so excited!

TGPP:  Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to completely eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future. Which problem do you choose, and why? How will you solve it?

LF:  Living in LA I really wish I could eliminate the threat of deportation as it relates to ICE/immigration.  The amount of fear and anxiety that creates in the communities here and in my students’ lives in general is heart-wrenching.  I know it’s a complex issue but for people that are already living here in the States and have work here and have families here, it makes sense to me that we keep that life consistent and stable for everyone, especially children.  I have literally had conversations this year and last with my students about what they would need to do if they went home and their parents were not there. It is a real fear that affects real people here in LA and all over our country.   At this point I don’t know how to change it because it seems like a very large political beast that is too big for me to tackle. I think the biggest change is happening in talking about it with people old enough to vote, encouraging them to vote, and make an impact on the laws and practices legislatively.  I also think it’s very important for children and adults living here as immigrants to know their rights and resources, and that’s something I can very much do in my role as School Counselor.

TGPP:  What is peace to you?

LF:  Peace begins inside of each of us and once we feel peace, we can start to encourage it to blossom in others that we come across and foster it in the spaces we exist in.  Peace is when you feel champion to the anxieties and challenges around you. It’s a feeling you get when you can exhale and know that everything will work out as it should.

Thank you, Laura!  You’re great!


Spotlight On: Krystle!

Krystle Arnold is an instructional coach for Yes Prep Public Schools in Houston, TX.  Her students first participated in TGPP during the 2013-14 school year. She was then instrumental in securing our second collaboration with Yes Prep in 2017-18.  Krystle recently joined us as our newest Board member.  We’re thrilled to have her!

TGPP:  Describe your role(s) at TGPP.

KA:  I was the teacher/sponsor for a group of students who attended the retreat in the summer of 2014.

TGPP:  How did you initially become involved with TGPP?

KA:  I became involved when I met Jacqueline during a professional development session she was facilitating and I was attending.

TGPP:  What made you want to be a part of this particular organization?

KA:  Jacqueline sharing that social justice and equity were embedded in TGPP’s mission were an instant no-brainer that I wanted to be in on this project.

TGPP: What is it that keeps you interested and active in continuing your peacemaking efforts with us?

KA:  The goal, the mission, the people, and the work that still needs to be done, keeps me grounded in this work.

TGPP:  What does a typical retreat day look like?

KA:  Team building, learning new skills, working collaboratively toward a service project that pushes the goal/mission of TGPP forward.

TGPP:  Describe a favorite peace project that you worked on either during a retreat or during the school year.  Why was it special?

KA:  My favorite peace projects during the year my students participated included feeding the homeless, a clothing drive for fellow students, and a community garden.

TGPP:  Share a moment or an experience that occurred at one of the retreats that was particularly meaningful to you.

KA:  Learning how to swim at the summer retreat of 2014 will forever remain my most meaningful memory.  It was great teaching my students that you’re never too old to learn a new skill.

TGPP:   What is peace to you?

KA:  To me peace is the presence of minimal conflict. I believe there will always be some level of conflict due to differences of personality and opinion.

TGPP:  What does it look like?

KA:  Peace, in my mind, looks like a collaborative effort between people who have chosen to put their pride and differences aside for a greater good.

TGPP:  How is it achieved?

KA:  Peace is achieved through planning and implementing said plan(s) based on the situation you’re desiring to be peaceful.

TGPP:  How is TGPP succeeding at bringing more peace into the world?  How can we continue to improve at that goal?

KA:  TGPP does an excellent job of raising students’ awareness of the world/community around them.

TGPP:  As you know, we often talk about this question, “Can there be peace in the world, if people are hungry?” What’s your feeling about that?

KA:  No, I do not believe peace can exist when people are lacking the most basic necessities like food, water, and electricity.

TGPP:  Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to completely eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future.  Which problem would you choose?  How would you solve it?

KA:  My goal would be to work diligently in helping to close not only the achievement gap, but the racial wealth gap.  I think a peaceful future for our black and brown children is the absence of these two things.

TGPP:  Have you had any peaceful successes in your life/family/community as a result of the work we do together?

KA:  With the help of TGPP’s generous donation I was able to provide families who were affected by Hurricane Harvey with gift cards to assist with them getting back on their feet.  I think peace comes in knowing families were able to have one less thing to worry about, even if only temporary.

TGPP:  Anything else you would like to share?

KA:  It has been an absolute pleasure being involved with TGPP.  I wish nothing but the best for the organization as well as past, present, and future participants.

Thank you, Krystle!  We appreciate you!


Spotlight On: Skye!

When Skye was in middle school here in Vermont her social studies class became part of the TGPP family. She not only participated in the retreat that year, but returned the following year for a more in-depth experience. Now a rising high school junior Skye is returning this summer yet again, this time as a CIT.  We couldn’t be more thrilled. Here are some thoughts Skye recently shared with us.


TGPP:  What is your name and where are you from?

SY:  Skye, and I am from Essex Junction, VT.

TGPP:  What’s your role at TGPP? 

SY:  I was a student for my 7th and 8th grade year.

TGPP:  How did you initially become involved with TGPP?

SY:  My teacher, Ms. Eldridge, introduced my class and others to our community service unit and we all got pen pals from Wyoming. We spent the rest of the year talking to them about our different communities and certain issues and qualities having to do with them. Jacqueline [TGPP director] came to our school to talk to us more about these issues and at the end of the year I was one of eight people chosen to go on the summer retreat along with eight students from Wyoming.  I was actively a part of The Growing Peace Project from 2014 to 2016.

TGPP:  What made you want to be part of this particular organization?

SY:  I really got interested in the differences between my community and my Wyoming pen pal’s. I wanted to learn more about that and about the work Jacqueline was doing. It felt great to be a part of something special like this.

TGPP:  What is it that keeps you interested and active in continuing your peacemaking efforts with us?

SY:  I came back to being actively involved in the organization because I felt like I had just started, like I had just been introduced to all of the possibilities out there for me throughout the project. I wanted to continue what I had worked on, and also experience it as a veteran with people who were newly involved in it. I liked the experience going back to the retreat the second year because I was able to take on a sort of leadership role among my peers.

TGPP:  What does a typical retreat day look like?

SY:  A typical day was waking up in the cabins to the most beautiful view and vibrant sun. It was earlier than a teenager like me was used to waking up, but the view was worth it. We would then take the van down to the main house and have a delicious breakfast planned for us. It was different to get accustomed to the vegetarian meals, but I loved how at the retreat I was always experiencing new things. Our activities would vary but normally we would do a sort of classroom activity to introduce that day’s project and then get some work time in groups. We would then have lunch and if it was nice out we might go swimming in the pond, which was always super fun. Then we might take the vans and go on a hike or go to the food shelter, but normally we would continue our group project. Then we’d have dinner and time to socialize and end up going back to our cabin for the night. The girls’ cabin always had tea and we would talk and play games, and then reflect in our journals until we went to bed.

TGPP:  Is there a favorite peace project that you worked on either during a retreat or during the school year that stands out?  Why was it special?

SY:  One of my favorite peace projects was during the retreat. We got into small groups and were tasked with creating a board game regarding an issue in the world. This was one of my favorites because it was one that was given without a lot of guidelines so there was a lot of room to be creative with it and show what the issue meant to us and our ideas of how to solve it and live with it through the game. The best part was at the end when it was all finished and we got to play our own and other groups’ games. It was really cool to see the differences and creativity.

TGPP:  What about another moment or experience that was particularly meaningful to you?

SY:  The most meaningful moment and one that sticks with me is from my 7th grade retreat. It was the last night when we had a campfire and made pizza in the homemade oven. At the fire the kids from my school and the kids from Wyoming were talking to each other about our communities, which was really surprising to me how they could be so different when they aren’t even that far away. The kids and teachers had us all convinced that some of them rode horses to school and that they all lived on farms. The joke went on for awhile until they finally told us it wasn’t true, but that was a really mind opening thing that made me realize just how everyone is kind of living in their own bubble and don’t really know much about how everyone has their own story and lifestyle. It got me thinking about how that innocent ignorance could be a factor in why there isn’t world peace. However, that whole night at the fire was really fun and meaningful to me.

TGPP:  What is peace to you?

SY:  Peace to me is when everyone is able to live their lives without having to worry about their safety due to their race, religion, gender, appearance, etc. When people are worried about going in public places, especially school, because of getting harassed or made fun of for things like that, there is no peace. Peace is when people are able to coexist without violence physically and emotionally.

TGPP: What does peace look like?

SY:  Peace looks like unity, empowerment, advocacy, and happiness. Peace looks like the good in a person’s soul, mind, and heart, not what is on the outside. Peace looks like giving someone a smile that you’ve never met before in the hallway at school just because. Peace looks like everyone living their own lives uninterrupted by violence or war.

TGPP:  How is it achieved?

SY:  Peace is achieved by people being educated about how to advocate for themselves and their beliefs, how to empower themselves and those around them, and how to show more love and less hate. I think a big part of it is education of what you can really do. People need to realize that they can make change no matter how old or young they might be. Lastly, the most important thing in my mind is that people need to realize that we would greatly benefit from world peace because there are problems in our world. You cannot fix something if you do not believe it exists and is an issue. Peace is achieved through recognition of pressing issues and education of young minds.

TGPP:  How is TGPP succeeding at bringing more peace into the world? How can we continue to improve at that goal?  

SY:  I think that it is succeeding because it is educating young people about ways they can help. It is informing the future generations that starting small, doing even the littlest thing to create change, can make a difference and make peace. By targeting the young people, this organization is really impacting our world for the better. I think that you can continue to improve by expanding your outreach, be active on social media platforms that are such a big part of young people’s lives like Instagram, Twitter, etc. In my opinion, being more accessible to the younger generations through things they look at everyday will increase involvement and provoke more change.

TGPP:  As you know, we often talk about this question, “Can there be peace in the world if people are hungry?” What’s your feeling about that?

SY:  Peace is freedom from the world of war and violence, it is innocent tranquility. Therefore, I don’t believe there can be peace in the world if people are hungry because hunger can cause war and violence. Underdeveloped countries are the main places where extreme hunger exists. Underdeveloped countries are also countries that have a lot of violence and war. That correlation is no coincidence. Hunger is an issue that shouldn’t exist because food is a necessity to live. And if someone’s life is threatened, there is no possibility of peace.

TGPP:  Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to completely eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future. Which problem would you choose? How would you solve it?

SY:  The problem I would eliminate is school shootings and gun violence. I would choose this one because there are a lot of these happening lately and it is especially a huge issue threatening the peace of our nation. I don’t believe that the solution will be easy, but if the right steps are taken I think the number of gun violence related tragedies can be greatly reduced. Some things I would do would include raising the age that you can buy a gun, going through mandatory background checks and training in order to buy guns, and understanding of mental health issues affecting people who abuse firearms and the willingness to help them. There are obviously going to still be people that have guns in the world, there is no way to completely abolish them. But if you start with the young people, the future generations of the world will have a better chance at being better than we have been lately, instead of continuing to spiral downward.

TGPP: Have you had any peaceful successes in your life, family, or community as a result of the work we do together?

SY:  I can’t really think of specific successes I’ve had, because it’s been more lifestyle and mindset changes that I have incorporated into my daily life. I am more aware of the ways I can help, and why getting involved really is important especially for younger people like myself. The experience really opened up my mind to how much I could really do to create change, even though I’m young. I will continue to try my best to make everything I do more peaceful and to encourage everyone to do the same. The biggest success I’ve had was realizing that I have a voice and can make a difference.

TGPP: Anything else you would like to share?

SY:  I would really recommend this organization to anyone who has the opportunity to be a part of it. Even if it is not something you would normally do, it changes your view on the world and what you can do for it. The people are great and really passionate about everything they do. I am so thankful to have been apart of this and for being able to go the retreat for two years, because it was a wonderful and mind-opening experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat [and lucky for us – she is!].

Thank you, Skye!  You are awesome!


Spotlight On: Andrew!

The Growing Peace Project recently had the opportunity to catch up with one of our favorite students, Andrew from Houston, Texas!

Andrew attends YES Prep charter school, whose mission is to “…increase the number of students from underserved communities who graduate from college prepared to lead….YES Prep is living proof that different outcomes are possible when students from low-income communities are given access to high-quality educational opportunities.

The Growing Peace Project partnered with YES Prep Houston in 2014.  Below are Andrew’s comments about his experience.

Hi, my name is Andrew and I was a student with The Growing Peace Project (TGPP) in 2014.  I became involved with TGPP when my teacher, Ms. Bowman, asked me if I wanted to go to Vermont.  I was interested in this program because I enjoy meeting new people and seeing what life is like where they’re from.  I worked with TGPP for one year, and then I was chosen to attend the summer Retreat.

A Retreat day starts with waking up early, going for breakfast and then everyone beginning their activities for the day.  There was also free time sometimes.  Two of my favorite activities / peace projects were when we all hiked up the mountain, and also when we went and made the pizza [in an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven].  One of my favorite moments at the Retreat was when we walked to the hill and I could see the stars and feel the wind.

Peace means that there is no fighting, confusion, or arguing happening.  People are getting along and enjoying each other’s presence.  I don’t think it can be fully achieved but partially, by encouraging people to be more kind to others.  TGPP helps to bring more peace into the world by introducing students to kids who they would probably never see.

If I could eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future, I would choose world hunger.  There can’t be peace in the world if people are hungry, because they won’t be able to be peaceful.  A lot of people die every year because they didn’t have access to food or couldn’t afford it.  I would solve this by having people build huts/tents that gives out free food for the hungry.

As a result of working with The Growing Peace Project, I’ve had some peaceful successes.  For example, in my school and grade we usually defend each other.  We don’t really bully each other anymore and we all get along a lot better.

I would love to revisit my trip to the Retreat and enjoy the wilderness.

Thank you, Andrew!  You rock!


Spotlight On: Tori!

We’re so thrilled to launch this new page, which we’re calling “Spotlight On!”  Each episode will feature a different person passionate about TGPP – student, counselor, staff, Board, or community member!

For our our inaugural showcase we couldn’t think of a better person than Victoria “Tori” Slavin, who has been with us since the beginning.  She’s become an invaluable, trusted, and amazing addition to our team.  We love her!  Tori grew up in Essex Junction, VT, and now lives in Charleston, SC. She is currently in her first year of college.


TGPP:  What’s your role at TGPP?

TS: I have been a part of TGPP since its launch six years ago. I have returned every year since, and my role has shifted from being a student participant to being a counselor. As a counselor I coordinate work groups and assist in group activities.

TGPP:  How did you initially become involved with TGPP?

TS: In 7th grade my history teacher introduced our class to the idea of TGPP, part of a community outreach program that allowed us to communicate with inner city kids. Only eight of us – four boys and four girls – in my 7th grade class were chosen to participate [in the culminating retreat], and I was excited to become a part of it.

TGPP: What made you want to be part of this particular organization?

TS: The idea of helping the community, and then being able to go to a retreat with like-minded individuals who are also interested in “being the change.” To be a part of the project and be able to lead kids that are much like me when I was younger, is heart-warming and really gratifying.

TGPP: What is it that keeps you interested and active in continuing your peacemaking efforts with us?

TS: Meeting new kids and getting to know them in a setting that is very calm and peaceful with the objective of helping communities and working on real life matters, such as poverty, bullying, and homelessness. Each child is unique in their own way, and hearing their ideas and watching them work things out is wonderful. The child’s mind is so unlimited and creative that what they can produce in a short amount of time is amazing. When I was young, the reason that I came back was being able to escape the technology and pressures of modern day society and being able to work on the things that were important to me.

TGPP: What does a typical retreat day look like?

TS: A typical day is definitely an early day, waking up around 7 am to go to the main house from our cabins to enjoy breakfast and have a group activity, then we get started on the main event of the day. Whether it be action plans, an activity at the local food shelter, or workshops, we work on that part of the day for an hour or two. Then we come back together to discuss what we had just done, share ideas, praise each other for our hard work. The next thing is usually lunch, and then workshops or play, going swimming at the pond or working on one of the many counselor run workshops, such as jewelry making, writing, rugby, tie dye, etc. Then after the work and play, the day is brought back to the more serious aspect of the project, and then dinner, and another group activity after dinner. After the group activity, it’s usually about time to head back to the cabins to relax, and reflect on what we had learned that day. The girls’ cabin has created a tradition of tea time at the end of the night where we write in our journals and bond. Then, usually, everyone is really tired, and we go to sleep.

TGPP: Is there a favorite peace project that you worked on either during a retreat or during the school year that stands out?  Why was it special?

TS: My favorite peace project at one of the retreats was when I was in 8th grade. We went to the food shelter to cook food, the preparation alone was fun – picking our own vegetables from the garden. Then, going to the shelter, seeing an actual shelter in 8th grade, which I had never seen because I hadn’t ever volunteered at one. Being there and working together with the other kids to make trays of food was amazing. It was very rewarding and will remain one of my fondest memories.

TGPP:  What about another moment or experience that was particularly meaningful to you?

TS: I believe it was the first or second year, when we had many kids from the city come to the retreat. The retreat is in rural Vermont, and we are encouraged to shut off our electronics. The kids from the city were outside one night just admiring the stars, they had never seen them so clearly. I really understood it at the time, because the stars were something I was used to when I lived in Vermont, but the kids were not used to it. That moment has really stuck with me through the years because something that I possibly took for granted was something that amazed someone who had never seen it.

TGPP:  What is peace to you?

TS: Peace is harmony between everyone, no matter what their beliefs, ethnicity, sex, or age. There isn’t a lot of peace in my everyday world, between school and work, the rush of the world going by never ceases. The retreat gives me time to reflect, apart from the flow of the world, and really appreciate what the world has to offer.

TGPP: What does peace look like?

TS: In my mind, ever since I was young there was a picture in my elementary school that showed all people holding hands around the world. That is what I think of when I think of peace.

TGPP: How is it achieved?

TS: Through hard work, acceptance, volunteering, informing, and teaching.

TGPP: How is TGPP succeeding at bringing more peace into the world? How can we continue to improve at that goal?

TS: The Growing Peace Project is teaching the next generation that there are ways to make a difference as one person, that you don’t need an army to start a movement. That the world is so much more than they know, and that they have a support system for change, even though they really can make a difference by themselves. Having a group of like-minded individuals who want to make the world a better place, and knowing that they’re there to bounce their ideas off of each other is amazing.

TGPP: As you know, we often talk about this question, “Can there be peace in the world if people are hungry?” What’s your feeling about that?

TS: No, because food is a basic need, if there are still people who are hungry then there can’t be peace. Those who are hungry are usually willing to do anything to get food, there isn’t a way that there can be a peaceful world without actions being taken to feed those who can’t feed themselves. I can’t see a peaceful world where you can still walk down the street and see a person begging for food.

TGPP: Imagine for a moment that you have the ability to completely eliminate a problem that is threatening our peaceful future. Which problem would you choose? How would you solve it?

TS: Poverty. About 21,000 men, women, and children die every day from hunger or hunger-related issues. The amount of people dying every day are people leaving behind families and loved ones. There is no reason for there to be a rate of 21,000 people dying when there is so much food being wasted in the US alone. If we were to cut down our food wastefulness and share a little bit, then we would be able to solve hunger. There would be no more people starving on the streets or in foreign countries. We, as a world, need to be more generous, we need to be more forgiving, and we definitely need to stop wasting food.

TGPP: Have you had any peaceful successes in your life, family, or community as a result of the work we do together?

TS: I try to live a peacefully inspired lifestyle. If I encounter someone who is hungry I will usually go and buy them food. I clean out my closet every year to donate clothes and toys to the needy. I will be volunteering at the local animal shelter starting in January. I live by the philosophy that TGPP has taught me, that every little thing helps and that it’s all part of being the change I want to see in the world.

TGPP: Anything else you would like to share?

TS: I wear my TGPP shirts weekly, always trying to spread the word when asked about it. I enjoy explaining to people what I am involved in because it is something close to my heart, and every time I talk about it I think of something else that the project has taught me. I will continue believing, supporting, and participating in the project for as long as I can. I take my tenure very seriously and I am extremely proud of the fact that I believe you can make a difference in the world all due to the guidance of TGPP.

Thank you, Tori!  We love you!

The Growing Peace Project is a peacemaking and youth activism initiative where youth from diverse communities come together to tackle social issues that are important to them. We seek to empower youth to become “bridge builders,” thereby strengthening community and growing peace.

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