Jeni Stepanek Keynotes First Annual Peace Symposium

Pathways to Peace Symposium at Habitat for Humanity Global Village

On Wednesday, October 9, Furlow Charter School and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation partnered to present Pathways to Peace: Celebrating Georgia’s Global Community and Building Cross Cultural and Global Awareness. The event brought teachers and community stakeholders together at Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village. The first annual Jubilee International symposium highlighted how peace can be taught through foreign language methods that promote citizenship, social responsibility, and reflection. Jason Williams, principal of Furlow Charter School, welcomed a variety of Georgia speakers who presented how to incorporate local resources with innovative world language practices.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Jeni Stepanek of Rockville, Maryland, conveyed her son Mattie’s message of peace and hope. “Everything in life has choice, even if the only choice we have is the attitude with which we embrace, or reflect, each moment… We must choose to see possibilities—tasks, chores, sharing, even donations of money, time, energy, and other resources – as opportunities to make a difference…” This inspiring quote from Mattie Stepanek describes his legacy of peace and purpose.

Executive Director of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, Laura Bauer explained, “Although Mattie died 15 years ago, just before his 14th birthday, he continues to have a positive impact on the world. His words and poems, found in his 7 New York Times bestselling books (6 Heartsongs poetry books and the book Just Peace, written with his close friend and mentor President Jimmy Carter), remind us that peace is possible, and hope is real. Mattie’s remarkable relationships with changemakers such as Former President Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and Maya Angelou illustrate the power of his spirit and genuine desire to help others. While delivering the eulogy at Mattie’s funeral, President Carter called him ‘the most remarkable person’ he had ever known.”

Jeni Stepanek works tirelessly to continue her son’s legacy through The Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. The foundation’s mission states the desire to “further Mattie’s message of hope and peace by providing access to the message, promoting understanding of how to apply that message to one’s self, to the community, and to the world, and motivating people to action in sharing that message.” Mattie’s message of peace is simple and inspirational. It is “a legacy of hope and peace, guided by a simple, clear, and achievable message rooted in personal and purposeful choices in attitudes, words, and actions.” It inspires others to look towards a future with the calm confidence of hope.

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Jeni Stepanek with Patrick Wallace

Patrick Wallace, Program Specialist with the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) stated, “It was so inspiring to listen to Dr. Stepanek at the Jubilee International Peace Symposium as she shared her story and Mattie’s dream that peace is possible and the value that our individual pieces add to the mosaic of humanity.”

The symposium was sponsored by Habitat for Humanity International, the Georgia Department of Education World Languages and Global Initiatives, Chattahoochee-Flint RESA, and global leaders in the Americus community. Attendees from across the state learned from Patrick Wallace of the GA DOE about initiatives like the Seal of Biliteracy and the International Skills Diploma Seal as well as Dual Language Immersion models that work in smaller systems. Dr. Mark Linsky, World Language Specialist of Savannah-Chatham County Public School System, described how innovative language programs like dual language immersion and activities in Savannah have worked successfully with global businesses to improve the quality of language learning in the area. Linsky also emphasized grant writing as an essential component in funding these programs.

The exciting list of guest speakers also included Susan Yow, Director of Affiliate Tithe and Global Engagement for Habitat for Humanity International; Tripp Pomeroy, CEO of Café Campesino; Elena Carné, Owner of Tepuy Activewear; Paulina Guzman of the City of Atlanta’s Office of International Affair; and Ellen Hansen and Dave Tucker of Imerys. Brooke Deshenes of EF Tours hosted lunch for the over 100 guests in attendance and led them on a walking tour through the Global Village. JoAnna Arnold, Dean and Advisor of World Languages and Service Learning Coordinator, presented on digital storytelling and service projects that have enabled her students to share their bilingual books with kids in Haiti, Bahamas, Costa Rica, and Togo.

Arnold stated, “Furlow believes strongly that schools should prepare students to function competently in a global society. Students need vision, compassion, and language skills to enter Georgia’s international workforce. Economic sense says that children should know the importance of languages and cultures of countries so heavily invested in Georgia. It is important that we challenge our youth to become critical and creative thinkers who can communicate effectively as they interact with diverse audiences. The symposium was a natural step toward building bridges between our global community and our school. We want other schools to see what is possible.”

Furlow is the first school in Georgia to achieve peace certification by the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation. The service learning goal at Furlow is to produce opportunities for students to understand how to help others. Mattie’s message of peace easily fits into Furlow’s Service Learning program because he believed that peace is possible, but it must begin within. Pathways to Peace, the signature initiative of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, and developed by his mother Jeni, a PhD in Special Education at the University of Maryland, explores key elements of the message shared through Mattie’s books, speeches, and conversations. In order for students at Furlow to learn how best to help others, they must learn to experience peace within themselves so that they can help bring peace to others. Pathways to Peace shows students how to use their foreign language talents to go throughout the world as ambassadors of peace.

The City of Americus boasts strong global ties within its business community. The symposium’s chief goal was to connect global educators from all over Georgia and bring together decision makers, teachers and members of the international community to learn about current international activities and opportunities.