By: Katie Sobiech
In the last 18 months, high school students involved in PeaceMakers have participated in more than 50 different projects, totaling over 3,800 volunteer hours.
This civic/anti-crime program teaches students, grades 9-12, how city government works with community organizations to make the city strong, as well as providing opportunities for the youth to give back.
PeaceMakers could not be doing what they are without the support of Goodyear.
“Goodyear has been so good to us. Without them there would be no Peacemakers group,” Soule said.
Goodyear has financially supported the group since its start, and continues to support their efforts throughout the city.
PeaceMakers has also linked up with Akron International Friendship and the U.S. Department of State to host a series of conversations with visiting international guests. This year they hosted three groups of visitors discussing the topics of world peace, conflict resolution and human rights.
They’ve been interviewed by the BBC on how American teens perceive themselves in a worldview and were featured in an article in the Weekly Reader, a scholastic publication.
In just two years they have collected more than 2,300 signed cards from middle and high school students pledging to remain drug and violence free.
This just scratches the surface of what these proactive teens are doing in the city.
A Place to Fit In
“There are an awful lot of young people who are having difficulties interacting with other young people in their schools. Some are being bullied, some being pushed around or to the side, and those are the young people we want to invite to come over here and be with us,” Billy Soule, Assistant to the Mayor, said “Those who are feeling out of place can come here and we will give them a place.”
“Parents, if you have children that want to get involved in a project and program that won’t just toss them to the side, this is the program,” he continued.
One parent stood up during a meeting and shared how his daughter who was once shy is now very outgoing after becoming a part of PeaceMakers. Her grades have also improved.
“This is the support they are getting from PeaceMakers,” Soule said, “And what we’re doing here is unlike what young people are doing in other cities. This is a unique project.”
So far, every PeaceMaker has graduated from high school and gone off to college. The program coordinator works with all juniors and seniors to make sure they take advantage of area scholarships, and to help them fill out college paperwork.
Three classes, including 48 high school students, have graduated from PeaceMakers so far.
“It’s amazing how many kids are graduating and going off to college,” Soule said, “Something is going right about what we’re doing. We’re successful and it’s a blessing to know that. The sky’s the limit.”
“One of the most beautiful things that I’ve seen come out of this are the college scholarships,” Willa Keith added, “We share the scholarships available and put all the information out there.”
Keith helps them write their letters and with FAFSA forms.
“Some parents just don’t have the capability of doing that or don’t understand the importance of deadlines,” Mrs. Keith said.
With her help, the kids have brought in many scholarships.
“It’s been wonderful because so many have gotten scholarships and they share at the meeting,” she said.
Jasmine Wyatt, President of PeaceMakers, recently shared the news of getting accepted to seven major colleges at the last meeting, including Princeton. She chose Harvard.
Becoming a Community
There are currently 80 teens in the PeaceMaker program.
“We don’t inhibit them. Some organizations want you to come to their meetings and you’re “their kids” but we encourage these young people to be involved in the community. We share our young people because they are the community,” Soule said.
Soule reached out to several faith-based organizations at the beginning, only to find that they were a little “standoffish”. He’s found there tends to be an “our kids” vs. “your kids” type stigma.
“We didn’t want to take anyone’s kids, we wanted to add to their experience. We didn’t want to stop them from going to whatever program they were at their local church or organization, we just wanted to add to it,” Soule said of his intentions.
PeaceMakers still desires to reach out and work with the faith-based community.
“We want more young people to be involved with us. We have a true vision of what we believe this city ought to be and want to convey that to the young people so that they can develop their vision and when they take over they understand how it works. If they know how it works then they can work within the system to get things done,” Soule said.
“We’re looking for new PeaceMakers. We’re looking for diversity and to expand it. We want PeaceMakers to reflect what’s going on in our community,” Soule said.
They want to expand outside of the city walls, welcoming teens from Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Norton, Green, Tallmadge and other surrounding cities.
“Sometimes civic and anti-crime people talk about crime happening in one community and not in another. But people need to honestly sit down and look at their community. We have crime, people that are poor and out of work in all of our communities now. They are not as divided as they used to be,” Soule said.
Peacemakers has many plans for the future, including getting information out about violence in the community and mentoring younger kids through a mini peacemakers camp. This “Peace Camp” will be for 5th, 6th, and 7th graders.
A new PeaceMakers class will be held in August.
If you are interested in becoming a PeaceMaker go to the website http://akronpeacemakers.org/ and fill out an application. The next class is August 2nd-5th.