GREENFIELD, Mass. -- When Sandy Miller urged that Franklin County teens should be recognized for the commendable actions they were taking on behalf of society, back in 1997, little did she know that her idea would blossom into the Annual Peacemaker Awards.
The yearly presentation of the highly-regarded honor will take place Thursday, May 16, at Greenfield Community College at 7 p.m.
Miller was chair of the Interfaith Council of Franklin County while serving as head of the then-named Traprock Peace Center. Today the latter organization is known as the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.
Fifteen years ago, Miller expressed deep concern about the many problems that the county’s young people were facing. Miller felt strongly that a significant number of youths were doing good work in their respective communities, nonetheless, and that these teenagers should be recognized for their efforts. In addition, Traprock has always had a deep commitment to equity and fairness.
Joan Vandervliet, one of the members of this year’s Peacemaker Award’s selection committee, is convinced that the work being done by today’s youth is extremely important. "The future of our country is in good hands," said Vandervliet, herself a person who has given much to her community. "In a quiet way," she continued, "these teens are a revelation.
"We honor them for their leadership capabilities, their dedication, their insight. Observing how these youth have been supported by their families, schools, faiths, and other influences, is absolutely inspiring. The work these young people have accomplished, the committee strongly feels, has prepared them for a productive life."
The youth engage in projects, under the tutelage of educators and community leaders such as guidance counselors and teachers. These endeavors encourage contributions toward justice and peace both in the youth’s schools and communities and the wider world, according to Vandervliet.
"We invite members of the community," said Joan, "especially those who work with teens, to identify youth to be recognized for the initiatives they have taken to make a positive impact within their communities or beyond. Nominees can be made from Grades Eight to Twelve, or comparable age if the nominee is not in school." In 2013, eighth-graders are eligible for the award, for the first time.
"Fliers and application forms," said Vandervliet, "are distributed each spring to churches, high school administrators and guidance counselors, and area youth groups. Applications must be received by April 5. Selections are made by May 1. We encourage the submission of nominations that reach out to youth who are not usually recognized."
Some of the teens’ initiatives in the past include dealing with bullying, speaking up for equal rights, alleviating homelessness, involvement in activities to encourage peace and justice, working against drug abuse, conflict resolution in difficult situations, and facilitating problem solving. In previous years, six or more students have received the awards each year.
After closing its doors, the Baptist Church on Federal St. in Greenfield presented the Interfaith Council with a cash donation to aid in funding the Peacemaker Awards.
Both the Interfaith Council and Traprock Center for Peace and Justice have ambitious aims. Interfaith’s purposes include "creating a forum across religious lines where people can meet, discuss and reach out to each other and to others ... developing a vehicle for greater understanding of the collective riches of diverse religious roots and varied spiritual traditions ... offering a focus for action toward social issues of common concern (and) fostering the opportunity for common public celebrations and remembrances."
Traprock, meanwhile, has the following goals: "Provide leadership to end war and address environmental and justice issues locally and nationally ... foster community ... teach nonviolence as a social change method and as a moral principle ... be a resource for peace and justice education ... provide leadership to illuminate, critique and change the militarism of our culture and the military policies of the United States government and other nation states."
Vandervliet has been a member of the Second Congregational Church for more than two decades and is very active in different volunteer activities at the church. She is also a longtime member, including past president, of the Interfaith Council and has also been active in the work of the United Church of Christ on a regional and national level.
A native of New Rochelle, N.Y., Vandervliet is a 1948 graduate of the Northfield School for Girls and an alumna of Centenary College in Hackettstown, NY. Professionally, Vandervliet spent most of her career in different capacities at Northfield Mt. Hermon.