Growing Youth Interfaith Connections at Common Ground Center

In early March, 2015, we had the pleasure of hosting the Vermont & New Hampshire chapters of Kids 4 Peace. We spoke with the Regional Director of the program, Jeff Mandell (pictured at right), about his experience working with the group.

Tell us a little bit about what Kids 4 Peace does, and how it aims to impact the communities that it works with.

Kids4Peace is a grassroots interfaith youth movement dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world. Our mission is to build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement for change. K4P is a 6-year comprehensive peace and leadership skill-building program. Starting in the summer after 6th grade, kids attend a two-week camp with kids from Jerusalem. Then throughout the year kids learn more about peace-building and work in their community. Each summer all the kids gather together either in the US or Jerusalem.

After their first summer the American campers return to school and their communities with a much larger breadth of the complexities of the world than your average 6th-grader. They gain hands-on experience of living in community with different cultures, religions, genders, races, etc. For many, this is the first time for these experiences. The kids leave with conflict resolution skills and leadership skills that will assist them in all of their academic and social endeavors.

How did you get involved in K4P, and why is the mission important to you?

I got involved with K4P because it combines my experience with facilitating transformational summer camps and my skills for working with people in conflict. I have a personal connection to the conflict in the Middle East as I have family who live in and around Jerusalem. The K4P mission is important to me because I want to live in a world of pro-active love and kindness. When we live in fear and aggression, it influences our behavior in a negative way (even unconsciously). Kids4Peace is hope and proof that under the right circumstances, conflict can be managed in a positive way.

What did Kids 4 Peace accomplish at their retreat?

At the retreat, campers engaged in activities and discussions to build unity as a group. We watched and discussed a film called "Dancing in Jaffa" about a man who teaches a group of young Jewish and Palestinian Israelis to dance together. We did yoga and went hiking together in Common Ground's snowy wilderness. We made rain sticks and talked about how the many grains of rice are like individuals working together to make a big difference in a "ripple effect". Henry R. Carse, one of the founders of Kids4Peace, came by with his guitar to lead us in singing songs of peace -- he reminded us that some of the peace songs were part of our own country's civil rights movement.  

All in all, it was everything a retreat should be.

How did you select CGC as a retreat space?

I founded and ran a summer camp program at Common Ground Center in 2011 called the Vermont Institute on Health and Wellness. The grounds, mission, and staff were a wonderful fit for us. As I was looking for a winter retreat space for Kids4Peace, I knew CGC could provide us with everything we needed. CGC is such a beautiful site and the environmentally-friendly mission is important to me.

How can people get involved or support K4P?

There are many ways to get involved with the Kids4Peace Vermont Chapter. Check out our website.

  • You can subscribe to our mailing list for updates on our main events and activities. We will be having a Walk4Peace on Church Street in Burlington this spring.
  • You can ask to be a Chapter Friend or Ambassador. This is if you are interested in helping with various programs or events. We are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers.
  • You can donate! We need to raise $40,000 by this summer to run our camp.