“While we are living in the present, we must celebrate life every day, knowing that we are becoming history with every work, every action, every deed.” – Mattie J.T. Stepanek

Since mid-March, children of Phoebe Sumter healthcare workers have been sheltering together daily at Central Baptist Church in Americus while their parents are working to keep our community safe. On May 11-13, JoAnna Arnold, Bridges Dean, Foreign Language Advisor and Service Learning Coordinator at Furlow Charter School, along with Executive Director Laura Bauer and Board Member Marc Birnbach of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, collaborated to bring a special Peace Out Language Camp to the children.

Rotating classrooms so that no more than 10 people were in a room together, the mask-wearing children and teachers participated in activities ranging from Spanish lessons in the form of songs and games, to reading Mattie Stepanek poems, eating pirate candy, making peace hero posters, and discussing finding their purpose (Heartsongs) and sharing peace with others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mama Peace chats via Zoom with Mattie’s mom Jeni Stepanek from her home in Maryland introduced the children to Mattie’s “Three Choices for Peace”. Visits by Chief Mark Scott of the Americus Police Department and members of the Americus Fire Department helped reinforce how community members can all work together to meet the basic need for safety for others.

On the last day of Peace Out Language Camp, Americus business owner Elena Carne of T31 led the children in a needs-based service project. In addition to providing face masks to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, T31 has been busy making face masks for other organizations, including the Navajo Nation in Arizona, where masks are in very short supply and confirmed cases are extremely high. The young peacemakers attached elastic ear loops to finish 75 masks, then wrote letters of love and support that went out with the next shipment of masks to the reservation.

“We loved partnering with Furlow Charter School and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation,” said Caitlin Downs, Wellness Coordinator for Phoebe Sumter. “Practicing foreign language skills, learning about Mattie’s messages of hope and peace, and having the opportunity to work on a service project to help keep members of the Navajo Nation safe was a true blessing for both teachers and kids!”

Marc Birnbach reflected on the Peace Out Camp experience, saying, “In a great pause, you find great peace.”