Peace Bringer Spotlight
(& Summer 2013 Update Honorees!)
The Tresca/Wheeler Family
When the Tresca family knocked on the front door of Mattie Stepanek’s home in the early 1990s, a preschooler wearing cowboy boots and a tie dye t-shirt greeted them with a smile and a simple statement: “Howdy, partners!” Since that first meeting, Mattie and his mom, Jeni, and the Tresca and Wheeler families grew together as friends.
The Tresca/Wheeler family has been selected by Mattie’s Foundation as “Summer Spotlight Update” honorees. Each summer, we update some of our Spotlight Honorees from across the previous year, selecting those individuals, families, and organizations who have continued to make deliberate choices that spread peace in our world. Across the past year, this family has supported peace and Mattie’s Foundation in many ways, as they have been doing for many years.
The Tresca/Wheeler original
Spotlight feature is below on this page.
Responses from the Tresca/Wheeler family,
our November/December 2012 Peace Bringers:
Sal and Diane Tresca, from Rhode Island, met the Stepaneks through mutual friends during family vacations in Maryland. Their two daughters – Laura who is the same age as Mattie (and who Mattie named his Laura Ladybug), and Annie who is three years younger (and who Mattie named his Annie Annie Butterfly) – played together and prayed together, and they laughed and cried and disagreed and came to peaceful resolutions together, as friends do during life’s ups and downs. Diane’s mother, Veronica Wheeler (affectionately known as Granny), also became a close family friend, frequently traveling with the Trescas who visited Maryland several times a year.
Mattie’s death in 2004 was hard on the Trescas, especially the girls who had grown up loving Mattie as a close friend and peer. Making things even more difficult for the family was the fact that during the same week that Mattie died, Diane was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer and soon after began an extended period of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. During these challenging times, the Trescas and Jeni Stepanek continued to “play after every storm!” as Mattie had encouraged, and to be strengthened by the support of friendship and the message of hope and peace that Mattie left behind.
When the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation was created in 2005, the Tresca family became some of the earliest supporters. They sponsored a bench with one of Mattie’s quotes in Mattie’s Park, and bricks for “Laura Ladybug” and “Annie Annie Butterfly” in the Peace Garden. In 2008, they excitedly drove from Rhode Island to Maryland to celebrate with hundreds of others who gathered for the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park Dedication Ceremony. By 2010 and 2011, Diane was working with Jeni – by phone and e-mail and during family vacations to Maryland – volunteering her time and expertise as a school counselor to help shape the Foundation’s new educational outreach endeavor – the Pathways to Peace Program.
When everything from sponsors and tents and signage and materials and more was needed for the Foundation’s 2011 Peace Celebration, the Tresca family recruited and worked and created from Rhode Island, then drove to Maryland with boxes and boxes of supplies that were used during the event for each of the Pathways Stations. Granny helped keep the Volunteer Station running smoothly as people checked in, and the Trescas set up tents and tables and chairs, and then shared inspiration and information through the activities and materials that were a part of each Pathways Station. And during this past year, Diane has worked with Jeni and other volunteers to help define the Foundation new Peace Certification Program that will benefit individuals and communities, including teachers and families and schools.
Now, during this season of “thanks and giving,” the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation honors the Trescas – Diane, Sal, Laura, and Annie, along with Veronica Wheeler as our Peace Bringer Spotlight honorees for the 2012 November-December holidays.
Below are the family’s responses
to our interview questions.
I am Diane Wheeler Tresca, a school counselor for the Providence (RI) School Department. I have worked as a teacher and counselor with elementary, middle, and high school students for more than 25 years, supporting them as they learn to become productive members of the community. Currently, my work involves counseling middle school students who are assigned to an “in -house suspension room” – which I like to call the “Re-Focus Room.”
The first step in helping students in the Re-Focus Room move forward is to help them understand why they were suspended. What rule was broken? What attitude was being displayed? What actions were carried out? Almost all of the students who walk into my room are very angry and emotional due to the consequence of their actions. They are not happy and usually are not interested in talking with me at first. However, I can say that I absolutely love my job. I have learned from people – especially Mattie – that peace is possible on all levels, and that we can learn from and “play after every storm.” Everyone makes mistakes or regretful choices. We need to forgive and rebuild.
I am blessed to live in the Ocean State – Rhode Island. I enjoy walks on the beach, and taking pictures of the water, seagulls, sunrises, and sunsets. One of my absolute favorite things to do is collect rocks and shells from the shore. There is something magical that happens when I hold a rock – I feel the energy from the ocean. I always wonder how far a rock will land after throwing it back into the ocean, or who will be the next person to pick up the same rock. I love writing inspirational words and quotes from Mattie on rocks, and then throwing them back into the ocean for others to find during their own walks on the beach.
I met Mattie and his mother Jeni nearly 20 years ago through mutual friends. It was an instant bond that occurred when we met. Jeni and I enjoy many of the same fun activities, and we both believe that in addition to peace, there should be more “chocolate everything” in the world! Since Mattie and my daughters, Laura and Annie, were similar in ages (as Jeni and I are), we all became great family friends. A lot of our time together across the years has been spent just playing. But even when we are playing, we are creating bonds that support us in the tough times, and we can be learning lessons for life. Even though I knew Mattie as a playful and creative child, I have learned many lessons from Mattie.
Mattie believed we should first be at peace with ourselves – with who and how we are as a person. I used to think that this simple beginning can be difficult for many people. However, during this past summer, I became familiar with a meditative form of art called Zentangle. In just a few minutes of time, someone can create a small piece of art while also entering a state of quiet, and a focused state of mind. Zentangle is an abstract art process, yet it is also an intentional process. You proceed in the moment, and no expectations get in the way of being in the moment with your pen and tile. Recently, I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). I now share this focusing technique with my students in the Re-Focus Room, and hope to teach others this practice of creating something wonderful while being in a peaceful state of mind.
From Mattie, I learned that even in the middle of busyness or excitement or chaos, we need to be quiet and listen to ourselves and to others. We need to accept ourselves as we are, and accept others as they are as well. Everyone makes mistakes at some point, or regretful choices. Peace involves forgiving ourselves, and also forgiving others, and learning lessons from mistakes that help us become better people, even if we feel hurt.
Everything in life happens for a reason. And everything that happens in life can bring us closer together as people, and more grounded with the earth. Some people are called to be messengers. They are people who inspire us to inspire others. When we can say “why not me” instead of “why me” in troubled times – like Mattie did – we develop a strength to overcome many obstacles. Mattie’s determination to make a difference in the world, despite his disability, inspired me to believe this, and to share this belief with others.
I really enjoy being involved with Mattie’s Foundation, and helping Jeni create programs and run events. I am a “mover” not a “shaker.” I did not want to talk the talk, instead, I wanted to walk the walk – spreading the message of peace that Mattie shared through his writings and his way of living. I support the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation in bringing awareness of the possibility of being at peace with yourself and with others around you.
If I could share something with the world about Mattie’s Foundation through this Spotlight page it would be this: people do not need to be located in or near Maryland to help Mattie’s Foundation prosper in its mission or activities. You can do many things for the Foundation right from your home telephone or computer, no matter where you live. You can network with other people who are also willing to make a difference.
I believe many people want to help bring Mattie’s message of peace to each other, but unfortunately, people wait for a formal invitation or for something to be convenient or easy. If you want to make a difference and be part of an incredible young man’s dream of peace in the world, then become involved. Sign up for membership or certification! Commit to something you talk about, that brings peace to yourself and to the world. I think sometimes people are hesitant that they might make a mistake or they don’t know how they can help, or they get too comfortable in their lives to take the time to get involved. Peace involves getting out of our comfort zone. We need to be daring. We need to take a chance to make a difference, like Mattie did!
I am Sal Tresca, a Nurse Anesthetist at Windham Hospital in Willimantic, Connecticut. I also provide care at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. I am a faithful Catholic and try to greet all people with a sense of common good and respect in their endeavors. I believe that all people deserve a chance to experience good care and warm conversation, and try to share these through my job and through my everyday activities. I try to be a kind soul and try to portray that in my daily life. In my free time, I enjoy art, and I also have begun to make wine with my daughter, a common interest that we enjoy together.
I was a volunteer at the 2011 Peace Celebration hosted by Mattie’s Foundation, and I found the experience to be very heartfelt and warm. I liked seeing so many others who gathered together with the same goal of celebrating peace.
Mattie was a great soul who inspired me personally with the endurance he gave with his sufferings. Mattie never adopted a “woe is me” attitude, but always talked about finding peace in this world, in spite of personal suffering. He often said “why not me” in terms of his trials and disease. Here he was, dying, and still trying to promote good in his life and in this world. What a great inspiration for all to live by. I feel very honored to be involved in the peace movement and am trying everyday to bring more peace to this world, and to my own world dealing with others.
Veronica Wheeler (Granny)
I am Veronica Wheeler. Mattie always called me Granny, just like Laura and Annie. I am retired, and go to church daily. I also visit with friends and offer rides and do errands for people who need me. I enjoy doing arts and crafts for projects, and I cook dinners or desserts for others (Jeni loves the meatballs I make for her). I am happy to lift people’s spirits or go out of my way to do an act of kindness, whether it be cooking or visiting or praying.
In 2011, I really liked collecting rocks from the beach that were used for one of the Peace Celebration activities. Mattie was an inspiring young man. I was impressed with how intelligent he was, and how he thought of everyone else and never let any of his own health problems interfere with celebrating life. He enjoyed life regardless of obstacles. I hope that what Mattie lived for will catch on to the new generation, so everyone can be peaceful and happy with one another and always have a positive attitude in life. One day, that will hopefully eliminate wars.
Laura Tresca (Laura Ladybug)
I am Laura Tresca. Mattie called me his Laura Ladybug. I am currently a student at the University of Rhode Island and hope to serve the community as an optometrist someday. Mattie and I were childhood friends, and he remains a source of hope for me when I am down. He gave me my first journal, and he has transformed my disposition. He has given me strength and has taught me the importance of laughter, love, and kindness. Mattie has helped me through difficult times in my life. I journal because of him, and I appreciate every breath of life I have because of him.
I learned about Mattie’s foundation through Jeni. I worked for the Peace Celebration held by Mattie’s Foundation and am on the email list for the peace updates. It is an honor to be able to support Mattie’s Foundation by volunteering at events, by spreading his message, and by registering with Mattie’s Peace Network to get updates on Foundation activities. I love my family, friends and community and thank God for allowing me to play, to learn, and to grow from Mattie. I am very happy to be a part of Mattie’s message, and I hope to continue spreading his message of peace. Pax et bonum.
Annie Tresca (Annie, Annie Butterfly)
I am Annie Tresca (Mattie called me Annie, Annie Butterfly), and I am a student at The Catholic University of America. I first met Mattie when I was a very young child, through my summertime neighbor. My family often traveled to Maryland and it was there that I met Mattie. We became childhood friends and I traveled to his home often. He was nearly three years older than me, but always treated me as an equal. My sister, Laura, and I enjoyed playing games and doing arts and crafts with Mattie. He routinely penned plays that starred both he and my sister – leaving me with every other available part (and sometimes wearing bits of many different costumes at the same time!). Because of my numerous trips to the Maryland area throughout my life, I decided to attend college in Washington, DC.
Both during his life and following his death, my life has been greatly impacted by Mattie. I routinely use his words when giving others advice, particularly in times when someone feels alone or confused. Mattie’s words are complex, yet easily understood. His message is simple and one that can easily be explained and lived out. One of the first times I truly realized how much Mattie and his message impacts my daily life was when I was assigned to complete a project in high school entitled “Who Am I?” The project seemed simple enough: create a collage of pictures of my family and favorite things and explain it to the class. When I started assembling the project collage, I realized Mattie was a consistent theme in my life. During my class presentation I spoke about Mattie, how we met, his message, and how I try to encourage others to live it out. I do not know that everyone was able to take something from the words that I said. However, I hope that I was able to inspire at least one person into spreading Mattie’s message further and live a peaceful existence.
I am happy to be a volunteer for Mattie’s Foundation, and to help spread Mattie’s message. My first event working with the Foundation was the 2011 Peace Celebration, when I served as a Peace Guide at one of the Pathways to Peace Stations, and helped educate those in attendance about how “peace is possible”. It is an honor to be recognized as a Peace Bringer. I always try to live Mattie’s message in my daily life and bring a sense of peace to those around me. To be recognized as being a leader in that is an honor to which I am extremely grateful. I still feel as though I have a lot of work ahead of me to be considered a truly great Peace Bringer, but I try my best on a daily basis with my family, and with new people I am now meeting through college.
Diane, Sal, Laura, and Annie Tresca and Veronica Wheeler all said that they were excited about being named Peace Bringers by Mattie’s Foundation. “The power of example is one of the best ways to teach,” Diane said, “And the example of peace can be contagious.”
for being Peace Bringers.
Click on images to enlarge
Mattie (center) with (L-R) Veronica Wheeler,
and Laura, Annie, and Diane Tresca
– 2012 November-December Peace Bringer honorees —
during a 1998 vacation in Maryland.