With Little Friends for Peace, couple has dedicated decades to nonviolence education

A version of this story appeared in the July 29-Aug 11, 2016 print issue under the headline: Skills for a lifetime.

by Colman McCarthy

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At the far end of a narrow second-floor hallway in the Perry School Community Services Center, a three-story brick building in a low-income neighborhood that's a short hike from the U.S. Capitol, is the Peace Room. At the top of the door is a painting of a wide-winged dove. Inches below are words that might have been lifted from a bumper sticker: "Stand for peace." "May peace prevail on earth."

Open the door and in a room no larger than 25 feet by 15 feet, shelves are packed with peace books and more painted messages: "Check feelings, it's OK for both of us to win." "Peace train, hop aboard." "Identify the problem."

Since 1998, the room has been the operational hive of Little Friends for Peace. The directors and co-founders are Mary Joan and Jerry Park, who have earned a revered place in the nation's peace education movement.

This is the 35th year of Little Friends for Peace, a nonprofit that began in 1981 when Mary Joan Park, in her early 30s, opened her home in St. Paul, Minn., to a group of 5-year-olds. They were told stories about peacemakers, and were taught the ways of cooperation, the benefits of sharing and kindness, and practical lessons of conflict resolution: skills for a lifetime.

At the Perry Center in early January, Mary Joan remembered the early days of her academic efforts to increase peace and decrease violence: "When I was doing child care in my home, a little boy of 5 said to me, 'Mrs. Park, you aren't going to live long because you don't like guns and there are a lot of bad guys out there and they are going to get you.' "

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