Peace House is an intentional community made up of two families, the DeWaeles (Jen and Mike, and their daughters: Clara and Alice) and the Mechtenberg-Berrigans (Molly and Jerry, and their kids: Amos, Jonah and Leah). These two families have been friends since the mid-1990’s and have spent a lot of time working for peace and justice. In 2006, they came together in Eastside Kalamazoo, with the purpose of doing something beneficial for that community. It took a little time to figure out what that beneficial thing would be, and a lot of work and preparation to make it happen ( and having babies and young children didn’t speed up the process any!), but in 2009, Peace House finally opened its doors.
Physically, Peace House is two houses, side by side, that share a big backyard. In that backyard is a hand-build playground and covered deck. At the top of the hill is a garden and orchard, and in the back of the yard, by our little patch of woods, reside our flock of chickens. We have a big sandbox and lots green space for running around in. The driveway between the two houses has been transformed into a basketball court, complete with a playground-quality hoop. When basketball isn’t being played, that space is also perfect for riding bikes, drawing with chalk, jumping rope and blowing bubbles. The houses themselves we’ve done our best to make cozy and inviting places to have a snack, to do schoolwork, to read or to play (hopefully!) quiet games.
We use this beautiful space according to the seasons. During the school year, we bring kids inside to be together and work on their schoolwork. We have a great crew of loving volunteers (you could be one!) who support and encourage our young friends as they read, do homework or engage in some other mind-expanding pursuit. On Wednesdays, the teenagers not only do their homework; they also plan community service projects, do critical thinking exercises and have fascinating discussions about the issues that they face every day.
Summer at Peace House is a completely different animal. In the summer, we become the ultimate day camp! Our volunteers come out in force. We open all of our spaces to sports, arts and crafts, bike repair, cooking, music, dance, reading, math, science, and fun, fun, fun! Kids will go on field trips all around the area, to the beach or the forest, to a museum or a workshop, to a beauty school or a restaurant, or, if they’ve worked hard at their reading all summer, we’ll take them to our favorite bookstore to get a free book of their choice. It’s eight weeks of madcap fun- beautifully exhausting!
The point of Peace House is this: We believe that everyone deserves a world that is peaceful, caring and just. We also believe that this peaceful world will never come about with a lot of concerted effort. People need to speak out for peace and justice wherever they can, and they need to work to create peace and justice in their own neighborhood. Our way of doing that has been to build a place where the children of our neighbor hood can come to safely learn and play, to get loving attention, to get a few of their material needs met. Most importantly, it is a place where kids can learn their power as peacemakers, to learn the strength of community, and to discover their ability to control their destiny and change the world. The kids in our neighborhood face a lot of challenges. Many are experiencing poverty. Many deal daily with racism. For many, it’s a struggle just to get through a school day. At Peace House, we try to do everything we can to build them up, to give them the kind of community support that many of us take for granted.
This experiment works because it is blessed by many volunteers and supporters. Those of us who live in these two houses are bewildered by our good fortune- to be the instruments of the love and vision of so many generous people. And though our hearts get broken pretty often around here, we really do believe that we are creating something lasting in the young people who pass through our doors. We are building the Peace House together.