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Learning, Doing, Sharing: A Lifetime of Service Building Unity in Communities

Volunteering provides a rich platform for creating understanding among people and bringing us closer to global unity. When a retired executive helps a new resident of the United States learn English, it fosters understanding. When college students work in a community kitchen serving the hungry, it fosters understanding. When a mother and child deliver Meals on Wheels together, it fosters understanding. Volunteering brings us together with people we may not interact with in any other part of our lives, to give, to receive, to learn, and to better understand.

In America today we are seeing that at all stages of their lives, people can volunteer, actively learning, doing, and sharing.

A growing number of young people are learning through volunteer projects organized by their teachers or initiated by their families. According to a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, an estimated 55 percent of youth age 12 to 18 are volunteering, which is more than 15.5 million young people. The typical youth volunteer gives almost 30 hours per year to nonprofit organizations. Kids who volunteer see that their contributions and their voices matter in the community. These projects give young people the opportunity to learn about being good citizens by using and developing their skills to enhance their communities.

Youth engaged in their communities grow up to be adults engaged in their communities. The maturity and skills of adults add real value when they are put to use in strengthening community nonprofits and addressing community needs. For example, many nonprofits do not have the funds to pay for professional marketing, accounting, or business development, so those who volunteer their unique talents and skills add hard-to-replace value to nonprofits struggling to address community needs on a miniscule budget.

These days, families often volunteer together. By volunteering together, families work toward shared goals and develop interpersonal skills. Parents and grandparents model positive civic behavior to their children. All of this adds up to family and community cohesiveness.

We are seeing Baby Boomers and retirees volunteer at a higher rate than any other demographic groups. As volunteers, Baby Boomers are confident, independent, self-reliant, achievement-oriented, and dedicated. They welcome exciting, challenging opportunities and strive to make a difference. With great life experiences and added years, Boomers can be models of civic engagement for younger generations, promoting and sharing the values that have allowed them to envision a more just and peaceful world.

At any life stage, volunteers contribute greatly to their communities, to better understanding one another, and to developing a sense of unity and peace. As Helen Keller wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Jennifer Nissen is the Coordinator of Leadership & Service, Iowa State University Memorial Union Shellie Orngard is Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of Story County Kalen Petersen is the Director of Central Iowa Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)

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Turning conflict into opportunity through sharing peace as an elected city official
By Thomas Wacha, Ames City Council First Ward Representative

As an Ames City Council member I share a special responsibility to represent the people of our community, but what does that really mean? For me it boils down to making the quality of life as high as possible for as many people in our community as possible. I define quality of life as those items that contribute to the ability to be happy and for me happiness means being at peace. Sharing peace is at the very core of my duties as a city council member.

So how do we work to increase quality of life and share peace? Obviously the city council cannot pass a magic ordinance that would make everyone happy all of the time; nor can it resolve international issues, but we can work to ensure people in our community are safe while also promoting those things that contribute to high quality of life. This is a constant challenge because many things contribute to quality of life, each of us has a different idea of what increases or decreases quality of life and many quality of life issues are outside of the control of government.

As a community leader I practice and share peace by striving to be tolerant, to listen and reserve judgment, to build consensus, to be honest and to find middle ground. This certainly isn’t easy, especially when dealing with complicated issues that often give way to conflict within our community.

At the same time one must be realistic. While I strive to share peace through the above mentioned actions, I realize that peace is not easily achieved and that conflict is a part of life. Peace does not mean ignoring conflict, it means finding ways to resolve it for the good of everyone.

In Korean, the word for crisis is made from characters meaning danger and opportunity. This is because crisis (conflict) can be positive or negative, depending on how we look at it. The key to turning conflict from danger to opportunity is equanimity – having peace of mind and remaining calm, especially under stress. Achieving equanimity requires peace. 

Most of us can agree that things are constantly changing, yet when conflict arises we become so attached to our views that change can become unthinkable. We also tend to blame those we disagree with without looking inside ourselves and without examining our own position objectively. Imagine if each of us could improve in this area! The effects would be great for us, our friends, our family, our neighborhood and our community.

The next time a conflict arises; work on achieving peace where it must start – within you. Ask yourself what you can do to help resolve the conflict. In the truest sense, peace is ultimately not in the hands of any group of elected officials but in yours… share it!

Share justice to share peace

I

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could involve as many as watch the Fourth of July parade or attend an ISU athletic event in an effort to make Ames one community – a community where all would have fair and adequate employment, safe affordable housing, and be able to provide their own food and other necessities? Let’s make Ames number one on the Top l00 Best Places to Live in America for all in our community. You may think I am a dreamer. Maybe I am. But there are already big steps in that direction.

Many youth in our community are setting examples as they work in community gardens, interact across race, ethnicities and backgrounds in music, debate, sports and  volunteer groups, swing hammers for Habitat for Humanity, raise money to go to Uganda to build a girls’ school, volunteer at care centers, food pantries, the hospital and the library,  participate in faithbased work groups in other locations, work at Food at First, and make decisions for Story County Youth Philanthropy.  All these further peace and justice.

Youth gravitate to risks and challenges. Video games, extreme sports and military service present risks and challenges. Stepping out in support of clean energy initiatives, working on behalf of those who are treated unjustly, educating for peace whether here in Ames or Uganda or Washington, D. C. is also a risky endeavor. Working and speaking for peace with justice doesn’t require legislation, outrageous sums of money or free hand-outs but rather personal involvement.

Let’s challenge our youth to bring along one or two adults, maybe some Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, Internationals, members of “The Greatest Generation”. Youth, challenge us to “see each other” as one community where perceived barriers of race, class, background, age fall away. Show us the way. That would be a giant step towards building peace with justice.

II

A key element in this process is developing  awareness.  When crises arise, we must willingly sit down and build an understanding together through sharing our points of view.  Only after sharing and listening can we accurately assess the injustices of the world to create a plan of action to cultivate peace.  I have seen this formula work to solve local problems in Tororo, Uganda.

In a community where men are accepted as leaders while women are to stay at home, there is a school  working to bridge the gap between gender roles.  Young women in Tororo work cooperatively with the faculty at the Tororo Parents’ Girls’ Secondary to fully understand this injustice.  By listening to what everyone has to offer, the community moves toward peace.

In group efforts to accept and to create understanding, in order to formulate a plan of action to correct unjust situations, together we attain peace.

Part I is by Jan Beran, an active Presbyterian Christian, has worked abroad for 15 years, enjoys learning from others of different backgrounds, experiences and ages. Part II is by Kate Dobson, a student at Ames High School, a member of Amnesty International and an activist for human rights.

This is Your Brain on Peace

Back in the 70s my father’s contemplative practice and prophetic thoughts on brain research deeply influenced my quest for peace and meaning. But it was my mother’s love and, in her words, my “unhappy camper attitude,” that dragged me, kicking at warp speed, into a deep space odyssey.

Proudly wearing my new high-top Vasque hiking boots, carrying, at the hip, a one-quart Nalgene water bottle of electrolytes, and beating a Taos drum, I waged my own theatre-making career/weight reduction campaign. No matter how hard or how far I traveled, trained, performed and reduced, the world’s winds blew until, like Alice, I fell into the Looking Glass.

Agggghhhhhhhhh!  I admit it…I just want peace and happiness, unhappy camper!

What I discovered about this inward journey is that it’s universal; every one of us has the possibility of cultivating peace and happiness; it’s better than becoming hypnotized by fear, anger, worry and hatred. Because of the plasticity of the brain’s neurons, it has the ability to learn and evolve incrementally, even though the brain is hard-wired for self-preservation at all costs.

In their book Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson, PH.D. neuropsychologist  and meditation teacher and his partner Richard Mendius, MD, reveal that our three-pound, gray, tofu-textured brain has hard-wired neural networks that produce three survival strategies.

1) “Fight or flight” as a reaction to threats,“approach and attach” as a reaction to opportunities.

2) Maintain control and stability of self and environment.

3) Set and maintain separation between me and you, us and them.

Connected to these strategies is a default network, which automatically switches on and tracks for any threats in the environment. This tracking activates the hum of anxiety, which keeps us vigilant and stressed, even when we are sleeping or in a recreational mode.

It’s an inside, disciplined job overriding this survival wiring. We can return ourselves to wholeness through the workings of the brain, guided by right intention, mindfulness and an open heart. We can choose to be present in each moment, value our present opportunity, and investigate self-defeating attitudes, emotions and concepts which can lead to harmful actions. We can observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment, stay present with difficult emotions until they fade away, and abide in friendliness toward self and others. We can practice BEING rather than doing. When we place intention and attention on the silence within, we can accept what is, just as it is.

Only when our inner struggles loosen their grip, can peace abide. We can rest with this moment without having to add or subtract anything. We can be with “what is” without striving, judging or wanting life to be different. Instead of charging at life, we can just show up and let life touch us. This is your brain on peace.

It’s in the stars.  Our resistance is futile. Peace is our destiny. Make it so.

Navvab Munirih is an Expressive Healing Arts Educator and the Director of EMERGINGVOICES in Boone, Iowa. email: emergingvoices@yahoo.com.

Date: Friday, Sept. 24
Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Location: Ames Yoga Center, 327 Main Street, Suite 3

Info:

We will explore the heart’s physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual connection in body and spirit. Join us in learning yoga, prananyama, visualization and more to support the heart’s energy system.

Everyone is welcome. Cost is $30. 30% of the fee goes to the “From the HEART” scholarship fund for students in need of assistance.

To register contact Ruthann O’Brien Hadish RYT
(515)292-3840


Date: Sept. 11-21
Location: Worldly Goods, 223 Main Street

Info:

We are a non-profit, Fair Trade store that sells handcrafted products from over 40 different countries.  We purchase our products from small scale producers with whom we have developed long term and sustainable relationships.   Our producers work in safe and healthy conditions and promote sustainable development within their communities.

We are promoting Peace by discounting all products that have a peace symbol or the word peace on them.  For example, items such as our Peace coffee, peace sign pins made out of recycled tin cans, and several other items will be 10% off.

The Mayor and The Mayor on sharing peace

We have been asked to coauthor thoughts for 11 Days of Global Unity. The request comes simply as a result of our sharing the label “mayor.” One of us acquired the title via the election process; the other by way of enthusiastic supporters at Hilton Coliseum. Nonetheless, we both proudly, and humbly, embrace the name and the responsibility that entails.

We are keenly aware that the tone set, whether at the microphone in the city council chambers, or the most visible seat on the basketball floor, should make a statement to the entire community. And it is our hope that both of those very public roles can help set a standard worthy of the name “mayor.”

ANN: I am convinced that the atmosphere in the council chambers needs to show respect for differing ideas and thoughts that find the public venue as a forum for the diverse opinions that make Ames a vibrant community. All public discourse needs to take place in an atmosphere of civility and absent personal attacks. We are all in the business of finding the common good.

FRED: A respectful tone and discourse is equally important on the basketball court — or any athletic venue. Sport has evolved into a highly visible and relatively influential part of our society – especially in a town like Ames. Kids follow with great interest what we do on the court. Often they emulate the actions of players on the court. Athletic excellence rooted in respect for the game and fellow competitors is as fundamental as a crisp bounce pass.

ANN: Racial diversity has taken on new meaning in the last few years in Ames. We have seen new residents relocating here for a variety of reasons. Many come from backgrounds far different from those traditional to Ames, Iowa. For some of us, our comfort zone has been challenged.  It takes effort on all our parts – new residents and long-term residents alike —  to make our changing Ames work.

FRED: Diversity is one of the fantastic elements of sports. I have played with, and now have the privilege to coach, individuals from virtually every imaginable background. To win, it is absolutely essential that the entire team works as a fluid unit – both on and off the court. The first step is to understand and respect the varied backgrounds of every individual on the team. We establish lines of communication and dialogue, which build trust – which in turn melds into the chemistry of a winning team.

Increasingly we have come to appreciate the interconnectedness of us all. No mayor, police chief, school teacher, basketball coach, or university president can operate in a vacuum. We all have our niches and need to share and collaborate with one another. Protecting turf doesn’t work. We are proud we have a community whose lifeblood is welcoming thousands of new students, visitors and sports fans each year. Ames can be a showcase. We all need to work to make it just that.

Ann Campbell is the Mayor of Ames.

Fred Hoiberg is known as “The Mayor” by Iowa State University fans. He is the ISU Men’s Basketball Coach.

Date: Wednesday, Sept. 15
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Gallery Room, ISU Memorial Union

Info:

Members and alums of service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps will talk about their experiences and answer audience questions. Open to the public.

Date: Sept. 27
Time: 7 p.m.
Location: Ames Public Library

Info:

Kevin Nordmeyer, architect and Director of the Iowa Energy Center, will talk about the design process and sustainable building.  He will show us how to make our homes and businesses more efficient, healthy, and productive.
The construction and use of buildings accounts for a large portion of carbon dioxide produced by human activity.  That, plus the fact that buildings alter the landscape and consume limited resources, makes design of buildings crucial to the concept of sustainability.
Sponsored by AMOS and the Ames Public Library

Date: Sept. 17-19
Location: Story City

Info:
A weekend full of story telling, workshops, and other events. Visit http://www.storyfestival.net/ for more details.

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