For nearly twenty-five years, I have struggled explaining Peace4Kids.
Other organizations often have very specific through-lines:
We mentor youth.
We provide camping experiences in nature.
We build houses.
These missions are clear and direct with a perceived problem that leads to a reasonable solution. However, at Peace4Kids we are solving a problem that most people don’t know exists… how do you explain that?
Checking Faulty Perception
I know! You are an ally, you must be; you’re taking the time to read this blog post from an organization that rarely posts. Or you Googled foster care (sorry Bing) because you want to have a positive impact on children. Or you were raised with someone who was in foster care or even had your own foster care experience. Or you work with youth in care and you’re looking for meaningful resources. Or you believe that every child deserves unconditional love, and that family is a birthright.
Whatever your rationale, this beacon calls you toward a life of service for our forgotten children. The problem is that the frame is all wrong for this picture.
In the early years of Peace4Kids I quickly learned that my perception of our youth was out of whack. I spent so much time trying to fix something that was never broken. Sure, our youth had endured trauma and toxic stress. However, that did not define them. They defined themselves by their hopes, their aspirations, assets, strengths, and their important relationships.
Don’t get me wrong: learning to lean into the assets of our youth took time. In the beginning, I defined our youth’s lives through perceived deficits which prevented me from seeing an essential wholeness. As a result, we spent much of our time trying to overcome obstacles that our assumptions placed in our own way.
Reversing The Model
About 10 years in I realized something. What if our youth had everything that they already needed? Instead of trying to be the “Village that raises the child” what if we let the children raise their own villages?
It was at this point that Community as Family was born. This changing of the organizational narrative sparked something remarkable. Peace4Kids was no longer trying to save children from the horrors of foster care. Instead, we were guides on their journey to discovery and connectivity.
We went from centering programs to the needs of the youth, to letting the youth center on what they believe they needed. Our programs became fluid. One year we’re doing slam poetry across the country, the next year we’re building a mobile kitchen, or launching an advocacy campaign. It was no longer about the product but explicitly about the process. Specific volunteers and staff were no longer as important as the creation of environments where youth felt safe and that they belonged.
The Peace4Kids Formula
Today, people frequently ask me, “What’s the secret sauce to Peace4Kids? How do we produce such vibrant and engaged young people from foster care?” We stopped seeing foster care as their starting point and their destination.
We don’t hide from the impacts of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and toxic stress. In fact, we have developed tools, trainings and co-constructed a certification program with the University of La Verne to mitigate the effects of ACEs.
We’ve published our research findings and advanced stories that articulate the nuances of the foster care journey. However, we’ve learned to check our biases and assumptions at the door.
We’ve embraced the idea that our youth have always been capable and thus they should lead.
We’ve learned to make space for our youth, listen and provide real access to power. In return, they have blazed a trail through a dense forest of doubt that will change the horizons of foster care forever. Consider this an invitation to join me in cheering them on and celebrating their creative genius.
Welcome to Peace4Kids!