Peace Sponsor Spotlight
Della Palacios with her husband, Raul,
daughters (L-R) Ofelia and Isabella, and
Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy, Prince.
Della Palacios began creating lesson plans using Mattie’s poetry and message of hope and peace nearly a decade ago, after seeing Mattie on television. As her children were born and began growing old enough to understand, she shared Mattie stories and poems with them as well.
Even from her home all the way in Florida, Della has been an active supporter and sponsor of the Maryland-based Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation for many years. She has sponsored a gift brick in Mattie’s’ Peace Garden in honor of her family members, and purchased books and Peace Club Memberships for them as well. Her daughters were among the very first Peace Club Kids registered when the free membership program was launched in May 2011, and she supports them in being active members, submitting artwork, photos, and peace thoughts regularly.
When Mattie’s Foundation launched a new Peace Certification Program for individuals, families, and communities of all sorts and sizes, Della immediately registered as an educator to become a Peace Certified Business for the education organization she founded. Now in a new position as an education director, she not only continues to create and share lesson plans rooted in Mattie’s material and message, she also continues to participate in Foundation activities such as the 2012 Peace Tree. Moreover, she has applied for a grant so that her new program, the Apopka Family Learning Center, can become a Peace Certified Community.
Mattie said that we must ”choose to see possibilities — tasks, chores, sharing, even donations of money, time, energy, and other resources — as opportunities to make a difference.” As a teacher, as a parent, as a volunteer, as person on the road to becoming “Peace Certified” by Mattie’s Foundation, and as a citizen of our world, Della exemplifies what Mattie meant when he said that “personal peace begins within each of us when our needs are met, but world peace begins when we reach beyond ourselves, and consider and tend to the needs of others.” When we support the needs of others — whether that is through time or talent or treasure or a combination — we become a sponsor for peace. Now, as we begin a new year and celebrate educators, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Della Palacios as our Peace Sponsor Spotlight honoree for our January into February post.
Below are Della’s responses
to our interview questions.
Education Director at the Apopka Family Learning Center
Mattie was right – “Peace is Possible!” I view the path to peace through literacy and our children. Peace should be central to efforts in all schools and classrooms. Focusing on peace from within will bring peace. Teaching children what to do as opposed to telling children what not to do always works better.
I learned about Mattie during my time as a classroom teacher. It was around the time he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I bought his Heartsongs book of poetry and turned it into a lesson in my classroom. I would read some of his poems, but I would not give my students any background information about Mattie. After sharing some of his work, I would ask the students who they thought the author was. I’d encourage them to guess, “Were the poems written by a male or a female? Old or young?” The students guessed it was an older man and they were so pleasantly surprised to learn the poems were written by a child around their age. (At the time, I was teaching fifth grade.) Mattie inspired some amazing poets in my classroom.
I found out about Mattie’s Foundation on Twitter. I was so flattered when I was followed by Mattie’s mother, Jeni. Since I learned about Mattie’s Foundation, I try to think of the Learning Center whenever I can in my life’s work. And, I hope that anyone reading this feature is inspired to support and encourage others to participate in the mission of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.
The first thing I did after learning about the Foundation was purchase a gift brick in Mattie’s Peace Garden as a Christmas gift for my sister. It is inscribed, “Jenny, Isabella and Ofelia, PEACEMAKERS” in honor of my sister (Jenny) and my daughters (Isabella, 6, and Ofelia, 4). Then in 2011, when Jeni announced the free Peace Club Kids membership program, I signed my children up right away. We have since submitted artwork and, most recently, Christmas ornaments for the 2012 Peace Tree.
In July, I gave Peace Club memberships to my mother and sister as their gifts. My mother loved the book, Messenger (Mattie’s biography) that I sent with her membership, and she proudly has a Peace Club Member “Choose Peace” bumper sticker on her car.
Since that very first lesson plan nearly a decade ago, I have continued to craft lessons with Mattie’s poetry multiple times. I shared Mattie’s poetry and peace lessons with children in my own business, SensAble Learning, LLC. Last spring, I even applied to Mattie’s Foundation to become a Peace Certified Business to show how much peace matters to me, and for the children I am teaching.
Today, I continue to share my Mattie lessons in my new position as the Education Director at the Apopka Family Learning Center in Florida. This Center was founded from the Justice and Peace Office, Inc. We focus on educating families and children holistically, and peace is the central theme of all of our efforts. I’m crossing my fingers to get a recently submitted grant that will enable the Apopka Family Learning Center to work towards becoming a Peace Certified Community, hopefully during 2013. When we, as educators, share the lesson plans and activities we create that are rooted in Mattie’s poetry and message, more and more teacher and parents and families can understand about peace, and how it begins with each of us.
I am grateful and honored to be recognized as a Peace Sponsor by the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. I feel so much gratitude to be recognized by an organization founded to honor someone I so honor. It brings me much joy every time I introduce Mattie’s poetry to a child.
Recently, I asked for the help of two students in creating a new blog entry about our work towards peace at the Learning Center. After reading a few of Mattie’s poems, a 5th grade student said, “It’s so amazing that a child actually could write poetry that could help the world be a better place and stop the bullying. We could just be like a family all around the world, sharing, being all with each other.” Mattie is such an inspiration for peace.
for being a Peace Sponsor.
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