Growing Peace camp in Auburn teaches tolerance and trust through fun and games

Camp for kindergartners through 6th-graders runs Aug. 5-9
By: Paul Cambra, Features Editor
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Growing Peace Camp
All children, kindergarten through 6th grade
What: Age appropriate concepts of peace, justice, equality through arts and crafts, music, singing, stories, games and hikes
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 5-9
Where: Alta Vista School, 173 Oak St., Auburn
Cost: $85 per child


John Lennon asked us to give it a chance, Cat Stevens took a ride on its train and Tolstoy wrote the book on it (though he did feel the need to give equal time to its antithesis).
But peace, for all its obvious qualities and benefits, still can’t seem to gain a foothold in some corners of the world.
That’s why five local groups — Auburn Hip Hop Congress, Placer Arts, Placer People of Faith Together, Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom — are sponsoring the Growing Peace Camp, a five-day program for elementary school  children that teaches age-appropriate concepts of peace, justice and equality.
There will be a mural project with local artist Stan Padilla and music and yoga with Auburn’s own J Ross Parrelli. They’ll play non-violent, communication-cooperative games to make peace with one another, and get lessons in solar cooking and bug hunting to help co-exist with nature. Throw in a drum circle and the Hip Hop Congress and let the peaceful play proceed.
The week will be broken up into five “themes.” To understand how this all came about, we’ll start with the last one first.
Peace in the world
The Growing Peace Camp was started as national program many years ago by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Millee Livingston was president of the Sierra Foothills branch at the time.
“The organization was having a conference in Missoula, Mont.,” Livingston said. “Some of the women wished to bring their children. They wanted them to know about peace and justice and all, so they got together and developed a children’s peace camp.”
The first one was held in Missoula in 1986. Livingston said the members here in the area wanted to do one as well, so the following year they held it in the Placer Library garden.
“We’ve done it for 26 years with a few breaks in between,” she said. “And nationally and internationally they have picked up on it.”
Peace in the community
Leslye Janusz is director of religious education at Sierra Foothills Unitarian Universalists, one of the groups who came on board a few years ago to help with the camp.
“This year we thought it would be nice to broaden the scope with other organizations,” Janusz said.  “It adds more interest and reaches out to a broader group of people.”
One of those was PlacerArts, who took on umbrella sponsorship of the program. Another was the Auburn Hip Hop Congress, which seemed a natural fit.
“Auburn Hip Hop Congress is all about connecting young people to the community in positive ways,” said Natalie Pohley, their community and youth organizer. “When you do that, you encourage them to be peaceful with themselves and each other. By the end of the week, they’re a big family.”
Peace with our environment
But families go outside too, and because of this, one day is devoted to the environment.
Brandee Mae Hughes of Bula Bug will talk about how to coexist with bugs, how to tread lightly in nature and how to treat other living things with respect. There will be lessons on composting and solar cookers and a recycled art station.
“If kids are enjoying themselves and those around them and the place they live in, they learn to respect the environment,” Pohley said. “They treat it nicer if they feel like they are part of something. They feel prouder and they care.”
Peace with each other
By week’s end, those involved say they see positive progress in the campers. They’ve not only learned how to get along with bugs, but more importantly, their peers.
“They make friends easily and want to continue that friendship,” Livingston said. “They are more loving and caring; the older children are more willing to help their siblings. And they bring the resolution home so their parents can learn to deal with situations the same way.”
Peace with ourselves
It all starts with being comfortable in your own skin, and self-confidence building is a key component of the program. But it’s not just the kids who reap benefits.
“It was the most rewarding thing I have personally ever done,” Livingston said. “Giving children the tools to communicate with their peers without having to fight or hit to make them understand what they’re talking about.”
Livingston recalls how a child who attended their first-ever camp, Patrick Bollinger, went on to start a Community Supported Agriculture venture (Foothill Roots Farm) in Meadow Vista.
“They are growing sustainable produce to be more environmentally conscious,” she said. “I like to think I had something to do with that.”
For his part, Bollinger said he was only 5 years old, and doesn’t recall much of the camp. He does, however, remember Millee Livingston from that era.
“Many children will see me on the street and say ‘Oh there’s the peace lady,’” Livingston said.
So what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding? If it were up to the people behind the Growing Peace Camp, there would only be too much of it to go around.