THORNDIKE, Maine — For the Mount View High School students who belong to the 4-year-old club called PeaceJam, their branch of the international organization that aims to inspire young peacemakers is very special.
Students such as Lynsie Thomas, 17, of Brooks spend time after school and over the summer working on their organic garden, which this year produced enough food for the school’s nutrition program to save $1,700. Club members also are busy after lunch with their sorting program in the cafeteria that has reduced food and other waste by more than 70 percent.
“I’ve never been so proud of a club I’ve been part of,” Thomas said Friday afternoon during a PeaceJam meeting. “The vibe is different. We don’t really care if we get recognized. It’s just been fun all the way through.”
But this week, they were recognized in a major way. The students have learned that their project has won the 2010 Global Call to Action Challenge Award, sponsored by the Pearson Foundation, and thanks to that they will be hosts to Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias for a day in November.
“It’s amazing,” said Becca Kimball, 16, of Thorndike, who was working in the club’s Peace Garden, located behind the new school complex. “The best part is knowing that we’re making a difference. My life revolves around PeaceJam.”
Co-adviser Cathy Roberts of Montville said the club started in the fall of 2006 and was the first PeaceJam group in the state. The group aims to bring young people together with Nobel Peace laureates to tackle some of the planet’s toughest issues through the Global Call to Action, according to the PeaceJam website.
The first Mount View students to participate chose to focus their efforts on the global call to eliminate extreme poverty, and they decided that they didn’t have to look very far afield to find extreme need. In SAD 3, their school district, about 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced cost school lunch, an indicator of poverty.
The first years of the club, the harvest was donated to food pantries in Belfast and Knox and to the Mount View School Nutrition Program. When the new school was built, the PeaceJammers decided they wanted to improve food quality for all students and also to support the local economy.
According to a press release from the national PeaceJam organization, located in Colorado, more than 100 Mount View students have worked on the garden project and school lunch program participation has increased by more than 20 percent while absenteeism and disciplinary issues have decreased.
“The program has advanced each year,” Roberts said. “Each group has expanded it.”
Even Friday’s cold, windy weather couldn’t keep the jubilant young gardeners down, as they worked to put their gardens to bed for the winter. The students energetically pulled up tomato plants and harvested spicy greens as they chattered about their award and started to make plans for Arias’ visit.
According to Katie Norsworthy, 16, of Thorndike, who seemed focused as she worked in the garden, sometimes it’s even hard to put schoolwork ahead of PeaceJam.
“It makes me feel good that I’m doing something very big,” she said. “It’s just really fulfilling.”
For more information about the program, visit www.peacejam.org.