Peace Maker Spotlight
Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree
Forest Park, Illinois
Mattie said we must “live peace” and we must“make peace a habit — something that is a part of our everyday words and actions, at home and at school and at work and in the community.” After visiting Mattie’s Park in Maryland while on a family vacation, Sydney Gray chose to join Mattie’s Peace Club Teens during Spring, 2012 — she was the very first member of when the program first launched!
Across the summer, she worked through the Teen Peace Journey and Mattie’s Three Choices for Peace, creating a Facebook project that raised awareness of peace and Mattie’s message. By the fall, she became a 2012 Teen Peace Ambassador. Now, as we celebrate teens who are learning more about the message Mattie shared so that they can serve as role models for peace, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors Sydney Gray as our Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree for our February-March post.
Below are Sydney’s responses
to our interview questions.
What would you like to share about yourself?
My name is Sydney Gray and I live in Forest Park, Illinois. I am 14 years old and a sophomore at Gray’s Academy Homeschool.
I am currently in rehearsals for a local production of The Wizard of Oz.
I love to write fan fiction, attend the theater, Skype with my friends, and sing to the Les Miserables soundtrack in the car with my mom.
Tell us a bit about your peace work.
After I became a member of Mattie’s Peace Club Teens, my mother gave me an assignment to complete the Peace Journey optional program. To complete the assignment, which involves planning and carrying out some activity related to peace, I created the Mattie Stepanek Peace Project Facebook page. I took photos of members of my community holding a peace message and posted them to the Facebook page. I took pictures of more than 100 people holding up peace messages, like “Peace is Possible!” Also, my mother, Donna, and I came up with the idea to take a bumper sticker with the Mattie J.T Stepanek logo and website name, put it on a stick, and have people take pictures with it to support peace! I had a blast riding my bike around town taking pictures of what I called “Peace People” for the page.
“Hello, may I ask you a question? My name is Sydney, I am doing a project for school, working with the Mattie Stepanek Foundation, to raise Peace and Awareness in our community. One of my projects is to have people take pictures with my sign for our Facebook page, showing support for the foundation and peace.”
Almost everyone said yes to my request. Some people would ask who Mattie is, which gave me the opportunity to explain that he “was a very bright young man who was a advocate for peace, not only in his community, but for the world.” Quite a few people knew exactly who he was before I even mentioned my project.
Another part of my community peace project involved raising awareness of Mattie’s Foundation and website. I came up with the idea to make sticky labels with different peace designs and Mattie’s website information, and post these around town. Almost every day, I went out on my bike and rode around our town putting labels on the back of signs, trash cans, benches, bike racks, and other places. Then I would take a picture of it and add that to my Facebook page for what I called “Peace Places.”
This project was hard for me at first. I am very shy and have been for almost my whole life. Sometimes I would have (still do, to be honest.) my mother order for me at restaurants because I didn’t like talking. When I got the very first Peace People picture, I ad-libbed my entire presentation and was shaking terribly the whole time. It slowly got easier to approach people, yet sometimes it was still hard. So this project did a lot for me as a person, a teen. As I worked to spread peace, I learned to be a bit more comfortable reaching out to people in my community.
My goal was to have 100 “Likes” on the Mattie Peace Project Facebook page. The reason this matters is that having people look at the pictures and think of peace in their daily lives — and hopefully visit www.MattieOnline.com – will raise awareness of the need for peace, and that peace is possible, and also support the cause of Mattie’s Foundation which spreads peace! It was very exciting when I reached that goal. Currently, the pages has 135 “Likes” and I hope that it gets more likes in the future.
I feel this project is making people more aware of the need for Peace, not only here in my community, but everywhere. Even if people can think of what they can do to spread peace and love for a moment, it may reflect in ways that they don’t even realize in their daily lives.
How did you learn about Mattie and our Foundation?
I learned about Mattie from watching the Oprah Winfrey Show with my mother. I learned about Mattie’s Foundation when my family visited Mattie’s Park in May, 2012. Mattie’s mom, Jeni, came to the Peace Garden and talked with us about Mattie, the Foundation, and peace.
What book or poetry did your read for your Peace Journey reflection?
Usually, the Teen Peace Journey begins with teens reading something by or about Mattie. I started the peace journey backwards on accident — I began my community project and Facebook page first, and then began reading one of Mattie’s book and creating my Peace Post (reflection and response to Mattie’s message). The book I read was Mattie’s “Journey Through Heartsongs” and I absolutely adored it. After completing the book, I created a drawing symbolizing that Heartsongs are all different, and Heartsongs (or purpose) are what connects us to peace.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would love to be on Broadway — either onstage or working behind the scenes. I love being a part of the theater scene and would really love to make that my life’s work.
I also enjoy writing, especially fan fiction. Here is an excerpt from something I am working on now, titled, ”CAPO DU TUTTI CAPI”
Emma hung her jacket on a small coat hook in the game room. The majority of the men playing another round of poker, sipping on beers and surprisingly no cigarettes or cigars. Then on the other side of the room, an infectious giggle filled the air. There sat Frosty curled up on the couch with young Henry; a large grin plastered on his face, his beautiful brown eyes, laughing relentlessly at the television screen. The Savior made her way over to the cuddling duo, a warm smile across her pink lips. “Hi Henry, hey Frosty.” she said softly, sitting down against the leather. “Hi Emmy.” Henry, after a moment tore his gaze from the dancing utensils to smile at her. The little boy was the spitting image of the Evil Queen; the same cheekbones, the same chocolate brown hair, even down to the little dimple on their foreheads. But there was one thing about him that didn’t come from Regina –
An icy blue to rival her dark brown, Henry’s beautiful orbs indeed came not from his mother, but from his fallen father; lost in the battle between his wife and his mother-in-law. Emma unconsciously moved her hand through his hair. She hated knowing such an amazing young kid has lost their father so early in life. She also had a ping of guilt for Regina. A young mother, pregnant and alone, her husband dead at her mother’s hand. The images of a young mafia leader crying at his funeral, her hand on her growing stomach, maybe even weeping in the hospital; no mother to help her through labor like a mother should, no joyous moment with her husband to celebrate, no “he has your nose” “he has your eyes” debate. Even the Evil Queen weeps. In that moment, a tear rolled down her cheek – the Savior weeping for an Evil Queen and her son, her fallen lover, too.
Any other thoughts you would like to share?
I am disappointed that I was not able to meet Mattie in person, but was honored to meet his mom Jeni. Talking to her about Mattie and his life really made me feel a connection to him, especially when she told me how he was a regular and fun kid in many ways. It is a privilege and an honor to be recognized as a Peace Maker Spotlight Honoree by Mattie’s Foundation.
Thank you, Sydney,
for being a Peace Maker.
(Click on photo collages to enlarge)