Windsor, Colorado: Giving love ‘so they know they aren’t alone’
Agents of Change intersperse intense conversations with service to senior community
Asked how she has been affected by school shootings and violence, 13-year-old Kennedy Shubert replied, “It hurts me to live in a world that there [are] school shootings and kids die.”
What would she do in response? “I give my love to others so they know they aren’t alone.”
Chris Garratt, 14 and the newest member of a junior youth group in Windsor, focused on “bullying and relationships” in his response to questions posed by peers, as facilitated by animator Michael Lee.
And how does he foster a better school environment? “I say please, thank you and show respect and kindness to everyone. For example, I go out of my way to hold the door open for others.”
Those were among thoughts the young people shared as they met in the days following Parkland and still in the 20-year shadow of the Columbine school killings in their own state.
The Windsor junior youth group, dubbed Agents of Change, has been meeting for more than a year in the youth room of a church that is in walking distance of their school, says Jessica Kerr, mother of participants Bella, Jadan, and Savannah.
“This location has provided a wonderful opportunity for new junior youth to join the group and for the community builders to serve a local senior residential community located across the street from the church,” she relates.
“The students have been serving the seniors for over two years by offering monthly ‘Grace & Gratitude’ interfaith neighborhood devotions with art” along with “home visits to help with chores.”
Turning outward to foster kindness
Their frequent reflection and consultation on issues that strike a chord has led the junior youths to recognize the destructive and integrative forces at work within personal and collective lives, says Kerr.
For one thing, they talk about how people behave at different stages of personal development, then start seeing those patterns in the evolution of the human race as a whole.
As a practical outgrowth of that awareness, the junior youth group has reached out to foster intercultural and interfaith relationships. One such occasion was a library gathering that spotlighted the beauty and knowledge of the world’s religions.
A resource, Manifestation of God, on the the divine messengers to humankind through the ages was studied in preparation for the event. The young people used that inspiration to create art presentations. Interfaith prayers were recited, food was shared, and a trivia game featured junior youths from the Baha’i-sponsored group and an Islamic center.
Another space, titled “Dynamic Discussions on Race Unity,” revolved around identifying social barriers to unity and “creating ways we can overcome them to foster diverse friendships,” says Kerr.
The junior youths also have taken part in training offered by Intercultural Community Builders in Fort Collins and used those skills in facilitating an anti-bullying workshop.
“It is the vision of the group,” says Kerr, “to create a community culture where workshops are held regularly and foster a community culture of kindness.”
Savannah Kerr, 11, particularly liked being on that side of a conversation, saying it “was nice to see what being a facilitator is like instead of a student.”
Sister Bella, 14, “really enjoyed being a leader because it felt like I could help others become empowered.”
And brother Jadan, 13, stated, “It was interesting to see how much work and planning goes into developing and presenting material for a workshop.”
Universal messages of art and music
Everyday actions are just as important, of course. Jessica Kerr says the Windsor junior youths look for opportunities to exemplify unity in diversity by seeking friendships with many varieties of people and by being an ally of and advocate for those who are targeted for being different.
“One student made slurs against another student,” she recalls. A junior youth group member “calmly addressed the student and encouraged the student to investigate truth before making negative and hurtful comments.”
To her, “All these personal experiences are very powerful.”
Like that of a junior youth who decided to read the school reality by conducting a survey on how many times people have been bullied at school.
“This poll included all grades in addition to teachers. On average a person would experience bullying behaviors three to five times throughout their time at school.”
Art and music are two tools the junior youths wield in addition to words to counter societal challenges.
“Our community culture promotes a culture of competition within the school, and through art we can promote cooperation and feel truly connected, united,” notes Bella Kerr.
And music? Every week, the junior youths bring songs of their choice to the meeting. Each song is played and the junior youths share their thoughts.
The universal messages: “You are not alone” and “violence isn’t the answer.”