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City-scarred kids in camp to dream and live peace.

WASHINGTON -- "All around us violence escalating," said Mary Joan ("MJ.") Parks. "Children are just starving for more peace in their lives."

More than 60 youngsters, ages 4-12, surrounded Parks at the Little Friends for Peace Camp, June 28-July 2, one of nine sessions scheduled in the area.

The children came to learn about peace and how to be peacemakers in a creative program coordinated by Parks and her husband, Jerry. Volunteer counselors and teenage counselors-in-training have multipurpose jobs such as helping the children with arts and crafts.

The activity is a stark contrast to the prevailing fear, shame and anger in the nation's capital: 24 homicides in one week and the random shooting at a swimming pool full of little children that shocked people worldwide. This was a different kind of summer school in the basement of St. Aloysius Church, located in a neighborhood where children are no strangers to the sound of gunshots and to the sight of drug transactions on street corners.

Parks had invited the children to spend a few minutes dreaming. "If you could give yourself anything, what would it be?" she asked. Hands waved as eager girls and boys wanted to be heard. A few responses were like lists for Santa Claus: a new bike, a house of our own, a puppy. But then came new requests: "peace in the world," "peace in my heart."

The next question pushed them a little harder. "If you could give the world a gift, what would it be?" Again hands waved with eager impatience as they named the gifts: "everybody a job"; "stop war"; "no more drugs"; "no more killing on street corners"; "no one frightened; "no guns"; "I want to give the world a rainbow."

The peace camps have long been a dream for Parks, a former elementary school teacher who coordinated a summer camp for Chicago inner-city children on a farm in Michigan. When she moved to St. Paul, Minn., in the late 1970s, she met and married social worker and peace activist Jerry Parks, and the idea grew along with their family, which now includes six children.

Twelve years ago, Parks started Little Friends for Peace in her family's basement and transplanted it to the Washington area in 1988.

"I want young people to have a sense of hope, a sense of direction," she said. "The peace classes plant the seeds of how to disarm oneself in children at an age when they can learn to get rid of what is blocking inner peace."

Activities are planned to help the young peacemakers connect their experiences locally with global problems. A War Box is a place where they put pictures and words that they want to remove from their lives because they cause violence. A Peacemaker's Pageant teaches them about the nonviolence of Mohandas Gandhi and the good works of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa.

Children at different camp sites have different problems, but, Parks said, "The bottom line is they lack inner peace." The prior week's sessions were held at an affluent suburban church a few miles from the inner city. "They are children who seem to have everything," she said, "but there are a lot of broken homes, divorce, drinking."

That is why peacemaking, not peace-breaking, is equally necessary for parents to learn, Parks said. Together with Jerry, she presents workshops on parenting. "We ask adults to list the stresses that take away the peace."

She said mothers, especially, share a lot. They respond: "My stress is someone abusing me in my life," or "no money" or "drugs." Parks said the sessions teach people to get away from placing the blame on other people or the system and to admit they can do something to change what is wrong. "We must equip children and adults with the tools to make peace," she said, "rather than have them equip themselves with guns, knives and violent words to feel they are powerful."
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Title Annotation:Little Friends for Peace Camp at St. Aloysius Church in Washington D.C.
Author:Vidulich, Dorothy
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 30, 1993
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