Peace Seeker Spotlight
The Esaia Family
Katie, John (L-R back), Mikey (middle), and
JD and Mattie (L-R front) Esaia of Laurel, New Jersey
It is always exciting when individuals and organizations support the projects and activities we initiate through Mattie’s Foundation by choosing to participate in our programs and events. We love to celebrate those people, and share how they are reflecting on Mattie’s message of peace, and how they then respond to that message and reach out to touch others with peace in some way.
The Esaia family from Laurel, New Jersey – all members of Mattie’s Peace Club and Peace Club Kids — has been embracing the message of hope and peace that Mattie J.T. Stepanek shared for many, many years, even before the Foundation was initiated. Before knowing about our organization, they were supporters of our mission, our vision, and our values as a result of reading Mattie’s books, and they have incorporated Mattie’s philosophy of seeking peace into their family life. This fall, when we formally announced our new Peace Certification Program for individuals, families, and communities of all sizes, the Esaias were the first family to sign up to become a Peace Certified Family. This month, we recognize this Esaia’s enthusiasm and mission to seek peace — for their family, for their community, and for our world.
Below are Kate Esaia’s responses to our
Peace Seeker Spotlight interview questions
Share a bit of information about your personal and profession lives and how peace is a part of those endeavors:
I have been a stay-at-home mom of our 3 sons, ages 12 (Mikey), 8 (Mattie) and 5 (JD), for the past 7 years. I have taught CCD at our parish for the past 4 years and am so inspired by Mattie’s spirituality and great wisdom. Last year, our Director of Religious Education was leaving on a mission trip to Jamaica and I knew I wanted to send a special gift with her. I gave her Hope Through Heartsongs in the hopes that it would bring peace to some of the children she would meet on her trip. Over the years, I have found several occasions when the best gift I could think of to give was the gift of peace, through one of Mattie’s books. They have always been received with much gratitude and joy.
As a family, caring for our environment is one of our great passions and another way for us to show peace with the world around us. For the past 3 years, we have run a special recycling program at our school. Every day, we collect items in our lunchrooms, box and ship them to a company called ‘TerraCycle’ and receive a donation for our school. Just as Mattie wrote about in his Celebrate Through Heartsongs book, we celebrate nature and all of the beauty in our world by trying to preserve it, enjoy it and share its importance with others.
How did you first learn about Mattie? What impact has he had on your life and choices?
I first read Mattie’s poetry in September of 2001 when he wrote his For Our World poem. I was a mom with a 1 year old, and everything that happened on 9/11 was something that none of us had ever experienced before. It was a time of uneasy feelings. I remember the week of 9/11 reading Mattie’s poem and crying, thinking that this was exactly the message that we needed to hear and wanting to find out more about the author. It was so hard for me to believe such wisdom could come from an 11 year old child! The idea of “stopping and thinking” — being conscious and aware — is such an important and necessary one.
My parents had always watched the MDA Telethons and in 2002 I noticed Mattie there (as the National Goodwill Ambassador). I was in awe of his strength and optimism, mixed with such raw honesty and what seemed to me like an ability to experience the whole range of human emotions and really live to the fullest, amidst his struggles and challenges. There were so many times that thinking about Mattie helped me get through the smaller challenges of my own life and realize how special life is.
In 2004, when the world lost Mattie, I was looking for a way to honor this hero in my own way. When our second son was born in September of 2004, we named him Matthew, and he has always been called “Mattie” in honor and remembrance of the impact Mattie Stepanek had on our lives, and on the lives of everyone around him.
Through the years, reading Mattie’s poetry to our 3 boys, they were so touched, as I was, by the love between Mattie and his brother Jamie. Brotherly love is such a special thing, and they really enjoy all of the things that Mattie wrote about his siblings. They have even borrowed his tradition of “carving a Mattie pumpkin and a Jamie pumpkin” — we celebrate with “Mikey, Mattie and JD pumpkins” each year now.
I had been looking for ways to help our sons learn more about Mattie’s message and his life and discovered his website. In 2011, I learned that there was going to be a Peace Celebration in the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in Maryland, and we decided as a family that we wanted to be there. The day of the celebration was amazing and it was such an honor for us to be among people who had been a part of Mattie’s life, and who were first-hand witnesses to the love and joy that Mattie brought to the world. The atmosphere and love, even through rainy skies, was full of Mattie’s spirit and we felt as though we were among friends, sharing in the joy of their day.
When we got there, a woman with a name tag that said “Diane” took our picture and posed with our Mattie, and was so kind and caring to our family. I later realized — after buying the complete set of Mattie’s books that included Jeni’s Messenger book (Mattie’s biography) and reading it on the ride home — that this was Diane Tresca, a close family friend.
Before heading to the event, the boys knew Mattie loved to collect rocks, so they had a special beach expedition to find just the right rocks to bring to Jeni, each representing a member of her family. We had the immense honor of meeting Jeni and she talked to our boys and said it had been a while since she got to hug a “Mattie” — and Mattie got a big hug!
As special as we knew Mattie was, we realized how many incredibly special people shared his life and how much his peace had already grown and spread.
We talked in the car on the way home about how we really wanted to be people who lived Mattie’s message of peace. One thing I specifically remember about the Peace Celebration that really hit home with me was Jeni talking about how peace was a “choice.” Every day, in so many different ways, we make choices. In our family, there are multiple opportunities each and every day to choose peace. As we walk out into the world, we take those choices with us and make more choices. Peace can seem like such a big idea, but Mattie J.T. Stepanek had a way of making it simple, and of letting us know that it begins with each choice we make. Mattie was very honest and let us know that it isn’t always easy to choose peace. There are many difficult choices in life. We all need peace. We can all choose peace. Just as Mattie’s friends had been peace for us on the day of the celebration, we can be peace for others.
How did you learn about Mattie’s Foundation, and how and why have you chosen to be involved?
We really learned about Mattie’s Foundation at the Peace Celebration last year. When I found out that there were ways for our boys to share their feelings about peace and reach out to others, I knew I wanted to sign them up for the Peace Club Kids. When I told them about it, they were so excited! I also signed my husband, John, and I up as Peace Club Members in the adult category. Then I learned that there was an opportunity for us to be a “Peace Certified Family” and I absolutely knew it was the next step in our journey of peace. I would ultimately love to join at higher levels and share this with our extended family, friends, and schools and be another ripple in the pond of people learning about Mattie’s message of peace.
It is a huge honor for our family to be recognized as Peace Seekers by Mattie’s Foundation. This is something that will encourage us to keep seeking peace, and sharing peace with others.
Thank you, Esaia Family,
for being Peace Seekers.
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