I’ve now been working with Play for Peace for over two and a half years, and while I’m always inspired by our work recently so much tragedy has taken place, it’s been hard to stay hopeful. This changed when youth and mentors of the Chicago Goode PFP club shared their stories. In Chicago, what started as an idea two years ago, was to lead a Practice Peace (cooperative play) Session with a neighboring elementary school, only to have it canceled due to the pandemic. Finally, it all happened with a little persistence and the help of a whole community!
Thanks to Play for Peace Mentors, Roberto Valle, and Kelly McCollum, the Chicago Goode PFP Club continued to meet during the last two crazy years every Wednesday with drop-in virtual club connections and play. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, they were finally able to host 2 events. One occurred at the elementary school and another at a high school where they brought the young students to visit.
I met with a couple of the club members to get their insights on what happened and, oh my, the inspiration and hope I felt leaving this conversation was much needed. Let me first introduce a couple of Play for Peace Youth Facilitators that brought the magic!
In Part 1 of this series, we’ll hear from Zaire, a senior at the Sarah Goode STEM Academy. Zaire joined The Chicago Goode Club his freshman year after hearing about it from his counselor Roberto. I shared direct quotes from our conversation below.
Me: “So, what are some of the things you’re learning at Play for Peace in your Club?”
Zaire: I think what I have learned from Play for Peace is different life lessons, like the “it's not about winning, it's about having fun” part. Also, it kind of brings diversity into the entire shape, because what I see from most schools in general are…they're like two different schools that are…segregated from each other.
Roberto: “Yep, that’s the reality.”
Zaire: “It's really good that we’re pushing towards diversity in this club...we’re bringing people together from different races and different cultures and letting them talk to one another to form a whole new community around that.”
Two years passed with continual Wednesday after-school sessions thanks to Kelly and Roberto. One Play for Peace participant, in particular, shared during their Valedictorian speech: “I wanna thank McCollum and Valle and Play for Peace for just getting me through this pandemic.”
Roberto reflected: “That was a huge deal for us, got us noticed by the principal as well. So we are also fortunate to work in a building where the administration does support us.”
This was proven to be true when rescheduling the session to a few weeks ago. Another hiccup happened when the transportation was dropped from the elementary school side at the last minute. The Vice-Principal at Sarah Goode STEM Academy drove to pick up and bring students to the high school for this session. As you all may know, not an easy thing to make happen!
The Play for Peace Chicago Goode Club went on to host two beautiful sessions, as seen in the video above. Zaire shares a little about his experience as a facilitator during the sessions:
Zaire: "When I graduated from 8th grade I always wanted to visit a school and see kids and let them hear from my experiences and you know, all that. Once I joined Play for Peace, it gave me that ability to be with younger kids and share my experiences with them and they shared their experiences with me of how they're feeling and how they're doing and it kind of gives me that freedom just to be with people who are younger than me and just to learn from them and what they want to be and what they want to do when they grow up.”
This is HUGE! I want to pause to recognize the intentionality that was put into action for these events. To go and meet young people in their “comfort space”, build trust with the high school facilitators, and then to invite them to the high school for a part 2 session - is just “wow”. The Chicago Goode club brought a bridge into two spaces that often don’t take the time to connect or reconnect. It is life-changing for some students.
The “truth is in the pudding” they say. One of the teachers from the elementary school shared a beautiful note after the session unprompted, thanking the club for hosting such an impactful session sharing.
“My students said it was The Best Day Ever- they built peer relationships, worked on crafts, improved their trust with one another, sang songs, and played games.” “A lot of our students don't get opportunities to interact positively with older students in the community, so thank you for an incredible gift and program!!”
I talked to Zaire about this feedback.
Me: “Wow, how did that make you feel hearing that?”
Zaire: “Yeah, I actually feel really happy with it as well, it's always good to see another person’s perspective instead of just hearing about just the wrongs in the world. It’s also about how we can make those wrongs into good things. Just how to take the bad with good and keep pushing forward to strive for your best.”
Me: “Yeah, definitely in a world that’s had a lot of tragic news, I think exactly what you’re saying to bring these moments of joy and positivity makes a difference. What inspires you about being in this club?”
Zaire: “What inspires me to be in this program is getting to know other people and just in general seeing other people have fun and get to see, and instead of just relying on technology for fun to just have fun in general, you know like when you used to be a kid and you didn't have technology to rely on you went outside and played with others on a playground it takes you back to a more simpler time. It’s not all about the roles and the aspects, it's about the barriers between if you can see what you can accomplish is impossible. And it really shows that there is no stopping of what you can or cannot do. Like the possibilities are endless.”
I want to recognize Roberto and Kelly for being rockstar mentors through an incredibly tough last two years that kept the Play for Peace spark lit. Also, to forever mentors like Rich Rutschman that came in to support the events. Lastly, thank you Zaire for taking the time to come and share a piece of your four-year journey with Play for Peace!
Stay tuned, next week, we’ll continue the series and hear from another senior and youth facilitator, Alondra.
By Yasmin H.