Peace4Kids is a non-profit, volunteer supported organization promoting trust, equity and stability for children in foster care
For 20 years, Peace4Kids has built a community where youth in foster care discover a shared cultural experience. The Peace4Kids vision of "community as family" provides consistency, stability, and trust. With participants ranging in age from 4 years old through adulthood, Peace4Kids is uniquely positioned to provide valuable insight of individual resilience and health within a safe community. Peace4Kids remains a grassroots, non-profit organization that has served thousands of current and former foster youth in South Los Angeles.
Peace4Kids is unique in that it organically creates a sense of community among the youth who participate, committed adults who volunteer, and community leaders who engage in our programs. This allows Peace4Kids a unique opening, and level of trust, that enables us to make a difference in their lives. Our legacy of youth-led advocacy has become more than just a cultural aspect of Peace4Kids, and informs how we evolve our programs and services.
At Peace4Kids, youth build trusting relationships within this community of peers and adults who have experienced similar traumas. By connecting in this way, they reduce the likelihood of being re-traumatized by adults who are not equipped to deal with the extreme behaviors and actions of a child who does not trust. The youth also learn to take ownership of their history or “story” and this empowers them to determine its impact on their lives. Peace4Kids guides youth to achieve the discovery that they are not alone in surviving the hardships of early trauma. Including adult alumni as participants in Peace4Kids programs, uniquely benefits both the youth and the adults as they learn from each other over their foster care lifespan.
"We thought we were teaching them...we were wrong."
Zaid Gayle and Marni Otway founded Peace4Kids 20 years ago in honor of the Season for Nonviolence, a nationwide campaign to promote peace.
Using the "seasons" 64-day timeline, commemorated by two of its most esteemed advocates, Mahatma K. Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., Marni and Zaid’s hope was to build a garden that would serve as a place of beauty and inspiration in an otherwise blighted area.
A small group of local school teachers heard about the idea and invited them to speak at 99th Street Elementary School. A week after the assembly Zaid and Marni received a package of letters from the students.
The letters were called “99 Reasons Why We Need a Peace Garden.”
Each of those 99 reasons were testimonials from the students on how violence had a profound impact on their lives. Yet, there was still a sense of hope that was so apparent in their words. The greatest theme inherent in their letters was the desire for family, community and support because of the tremendous loss they had suffered. These shared traumas anchored the students in a collective desire to create a peaceful place for refuge. This would lay the fertile seeds of possibility of what became the Peace Garden. Teaching kids about the cycle of life through gardening could help them cope with loss and reconcile their hope to belong to a community of people who cared about their well-being
Through this lens, Marni and Zaid thought that the 99 letters they received were about the many ways in which the youth needed them. That the descriptions of suffering were invitations for them to get involved and advance the teachings of two great leaders whose legacy could live on through these children. However, the youth already possessed these learnings and had intuitively adapted them to survive the worlds they were thrust into. What started off as exercise to teach the principles of nonviolence became an opportunity to discover the strengths and gifts youth in foster care possess because of enduring these challenges. Marni and Zaid learned that youth in foster care have a language of survival that is unique to their journey.
Instead of preaching and teaching, Marni and Zaid had to learn to listen and discover. Today, Peace4Kids work is about breaking down the barriers that exist between youth in foster care and the world, thus providing a space for their discoveries to be shared for our collective healing.