In February of 2017, the Western Connecticut Academy for International Studies Magnet School (WCAIS, or more commonly known as AIS), started the first Bridges of Peace and Hope Club in the United States.
The intent was to help promote the ideals of the Bridges of Peace and Hope Organization founded by John Farrell. It became increasingly challenging to work on BoPH related projects during the school day, such as pen pals or shared artwork, due to the increased academic expectations put on teachers. Student interest developed for an after school club! We would offer a meeting time twice a month after school that would not conflict with the student’s academic schedules. The only set back was that this would not work for interested students that had busy after school schedules or a means of transportation to get them home from the meeting. We decided we would offer these students opportunities to be involved during lunches or recess.
The response was phenomenal, as we expected! We decided to limit the club to 4th and 5th graders to keep the size at about 25 members maximum and because this age group was more developed to come up with and complete projects. However, we would still have some projects that would involve the entire school. Although we said we’d cap the group at 25, we had 36 interested students who we couldn’t refuse!! Luckily enough we had four interested advisors who were willing to manage the club.
We talked about what the club meant to them and how much they admired John Farrell and his musical talent and positive messages. We decided that we were a diverse group of students and adults who wanted to spread peace and kindness around the world through projects locally and globally. We accomplished a lot and the kids were super enthusiastic. Some students would meet with advisors nearly every lunch and recess to keep the momentum of a project going!!! The first year we sold t-shirts to raise funds to help combat Congenital Heart Disease, had a Penny War and raised over $1000 to benefit the CT Children’s Medical Center (a student of ours was fighting a brain tumor), had a food drive through Orchestras Feeding America, shared pen pal letters with Mid-Pacific Institute in Hawaii and started raising funds to build a GaGa pit for our friends at the Mukwashi Trust School in Africa. We also created a club website. It was a great year!
Last year, our second year, we had 28 club members. We feel the numbers dropped because there were many more new opportunities offered after school, but we were still really pleased with the number of interested students! Our first meeting this year started in November after we received parental permissions. We were thrilled of all we accomplished in spite of missing many meetings due to inclement weather. Our largest project became the completion of fundraising for a gaga pit at Mukwashi and the creation of a how to book entitled “GaGa – Game On!” Fortunately John was able to facilitate and complete building the GaGa pit with a team of helpers in Lusaka! Other projects we did were making scarves for shut ins and homeless donated to the Dorothy Day House, an on going food drive for Jericho Partnership, a door decorating contest with the theme of spring and how it represents peace and hope, Seeds For Survival to help Puerto Rico after the September hurricane (We raised funds for and ordered 200 bee kits and collected hundreds of honey bee loving and vegetable seed packets.), a Butterfly Book Exchange and a scavenger hunt. Students also did artwork and explained about something that makes them smile. We were all pleased with this year’s accomplishments!
Now we are looking forward to another great year and hope to do more shared projects with other clubs! We also hope to have our graduated students return to help with projects and/or to start their own club at Middle School.