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Holy Trinity parishioner works for peace

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

DAYTON DEANERY — “Like Mother Teresa said, ‘Love begins at home.’” That is how Debra Wolf recently explained why she devotes countless volunteer hours to bringing a message of love and peace to children, teachers, and parents throughout this part of the archdiocese.

Wolf is a parishioner at Holy Trinity in Dayton, where she also serves as director of religious education (DRE). For the past two decades, she has worked on developing a program that helps individuals — primarily young children — make peaceful choices. She has also written a book, Peace-Abilities: A Teacher’s Manual with Student Workbook, which will soon enter its second printing.

Debra Wolf poses with some of the materials she uses in her Peace-Abilities program. (CT/Mary Caffrey Knapke)

Wolf initiated the Peace-Abilities program when her own children were young. As a mother, she observed the hurtful things young children sometimes say and do to their peers. “I learned that instead of being a frustrated and angry parent, I decided that I was going to teach some of these skills,” Wolf explained. She joined forces with a friend and the two women went into a number of Catholic schools in the Columbus area teaching interpersonal communication skills that contribute to a peaceful environment.

When Wolf moved to the Dayton area, she continued to develop the program. She now volunteers with the Dayton International Peace Museum to bring the Peace-Abilities program to area children. A multisensory, interactive program uses visual aids such as a rainbow to teach kids about different types of feelings. Tactile activities such as playing with balls helps children learn how to identify their own emotions and consider others’ feelings. Role playing and demonstrations are also utilized.

“It’s an empowering program that teaches [children] that they’re the boss of the choices they make with their feelings, with their thoughts and with their behavior,” Wolf said. “I tell them, ‘I’m going to teach you a way that when you do get upset with yourself — like if you make a mistake or if you feel like you’re going to do something to get in trouble — that you have other choices. We want to think about our choices and what consequences they’re going to have.’”

Wolf wrote the manual so that teachers can continue to practice peace-making skills with students. The program is also flexible enough that it can be adapted to any age group. In addition to the manual, Wolf also recently received a grant from the Iddings Benevolent Trust to make a video demonstrating the program’s curriculum.

Steve Fryburg, director of the Dayton International Peace Museum, has introduced Wolf’s program to schools and community groups during recent travels to China, India and Iran. “I have this dream that all children all around the world would learn peace-making skills, and it’s starting to come true,” Wolf said.

Even so, she added, her own work is concentrated here at home. “I tell kids, ‘I’m going to teach you how to get along better. How to get along better with people in your world like people at home, your brothers and your sisters, people in your classroom, and in your neighborhood. I’m also going to help you get along better with yourself.’”

This summer, Wolf will facilitate a Peace Rules summer camp at the Dayton International Peace Museum for children in grades one through five. Scheduled for July 13 through 17, from 9 a.m. to noon each day, the summer camp will teach participants the principles of Peace-Abilities though lessons, crafts, noncompetitive cooperation games and music.

While some people might believe that working for peace is “a little idealistic,” Wolf said, “Peace really is the best choice. It’s the wisest choice. It’s what Jesus was telling us: Be forgiving; love your enemies. That’s what peace makers do. They keep going, keep trying, no matter what.”

As DRE at Holy Trinity in Dayton, Wolf coordinates FIRE, a cornerstone of the parish’s religious education program. FIRE — Family-Centered Intergenerational Religious Education — is a unique approach to religious education that allows parents and children of all ages to gather together for catechesis and fellowship.

“Parents really are the primary teachers of faith,” Wolf said. “I think [FIRE] provides opportunities for the parents and children to keep growing in their faith together and gets them discussing things.” Another advantage of the FIRE program, Wolf said, is that it “gives that sense of community and feeling like you belong. [We] know one another because we share that experience together.”

Precious Blood Father Rick Friebel, pastor of Holy Trinity, said that Wolf’s “faith in the Lord and in her church reflects her life as a peace maker.”

He also added, “Debbie has a great style of love and humor that adds to a real flair for folks to learn about the faith and church. She is truly a valued and treasured member of the parish staff.”

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