The last Wednesday of the month is a special time at South Side High School. A group of retirees called The Peace Family (formerly The Peace Grannies and Grampies) visit during lunch breaks to spread a powerful message and connect with a new generation.
The visits were launched out of the Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities study held at First Wayne Street UMC led by Rev. Angelo Mante and Chris Lahr from Alive Community Outreach, a Fort Wayne-based nonprofit addressing nonviolence, conflict resolution, and peacemaking.
The idea was born in a group meeting at the church when retirees wanted to know what they could do to combat violence in their neighborhoods.
“They weren’t comfortable just meeting at church and talking about violence and peacemaking. They wanted to get involved in an active way,” said Mante, Executive Director at Alive.
Lynne Gilmore, member at First Wayne Street was one of the peace grannies who eagerly joined the cause. “We’ve all been impacted by seeing the news about violence and conflict,” she said. ” We can’t just sit at home and think something is going to happen magically.”
Gilmore wasn’t alone in her desire to take action. There are now thirty to forty retirees who volunteer regularly with The Peace Family.
Their lunchtime visits began in November 2022. School leaders say they’ve had a positive impact on students and staff. Since that time, they received invitations to greet students on the morning of test days, to chaperone field trips, and have a visible presence beyond lunch.
“We were a little hesitant at how this would go,” said Kyle Emenhiser, South Side High School Vice Principal.
“There seems to be such a divide between these two generations, but when you see them together, sharing experiences, you find out they have a lot in common.”
“I like how our communities connect and intertwine,” says junior Callah Council. “They need us as much as we need them. There are a lot of things that we’ve had to live through that they haven’t, and a lot of things they’ve had to live through that we haven’t.”
The Peace Family shows up armed with candy to help break the ice and get a conversation going. “The candy doesn’t hurt, but the kids are ready and willing to talk because we’re positive and supportive,” says Gilmore. “But, we also want to drive across the principles of nonviolence, which is what they are learning about.”
Lahr, Community Education Coordinator at Alive, says it’s all about building bridges between ages and races. “It’s about agape love. That’s what we talk about. It’s a love where you see the humanity in all people and it’s been a real, positive thing.”
Junior Sonia Yoder wholeheartedly agrees. “I love seeing them. I love them being able to listen to my story and give me amazing feedback,” she said with a smile.
“We have so many young people that need that wisdom and experience, and we have these people who have that wisdom and experience and want to do something. Let’s try and build that bridge of connection and relationship with openness on both sides,” said Mante.
“We see amazing friendships developing through The Peace Family,” said Rev. Jason Morris, senior pastor at First Wayne Street. “It’s been eye opening and transformational for so many.”
“If we could all work a little harder to get along every day and have these conversations, I think we could start to turn the tide.”
The Peace Family is having an effect on more and more young people with each visit. “I think it’s really cool to have them at school,” said junior Oliva Soto. “I’ve never had really cool, ‘elderly’ people come in and talk to us and give us a different outlook on the future.”
“If we could all work a little harder to get along every day and have these conversations, I think we could start to turn the tide,” said Alan Riebe, peace grampie volunteer. “You’ve got to start somewhere. If we can help one kid with anger management; if one kid makes a better decision at school, it will be worth it.”
Gilmore hopes more people will see the message and decide to get involved to be a part of making a change. “We’ve got 1,500 students in the building where we can make a difference. I think the sum total of putting our arms around with love and peace at South Side High School is a win-win for everybody.”
This article is adapted from one written by Pat Hoffmann at WANE-TV that was entitled “Peace Grannies & Grampies Making a Difference” published on April 24, 2023.