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Grant a Wish, Change a Heart

Through material giving, a Safe & Peaceful grantee invokes community, security and hospitality

Seven-year-old Kemari Irvin was getting the full experience of The Peace Movement Home, Family & Community Day at Grant A Wish Children & Family Center in Chatham's Burnside neighborhood — he ate, he got to do backflips and play video games, and to top off the day, he pulled a wagon full of toys home when he and his family left the party.

It was fun, but Kemari's mother, Dalila Jefferson, said there was a deeper benefit of this community gathering: fostering communication to help deter violence.

"We need to come together as a group — the young kids, the older kids, and put the guns down and raise the kids how they're supposed to be raised, so that the violence will not start," she said.

Grant A Wish board member Earle Chisolm-El, whose mother founded the organization, said that promoting peace was a point of the event, and part of the center's larger outreach program.

"It brings the family and the community together," Chisholm-El said. "Just to get familiar with one another creates a lot of opportunity to dispel problems. If you know the person, the more likely you are to have a conversation with that person should there be an issue that needs to be resolved. But if the community doesn't know each other, then it makes it difficult for you to intervene in a situation when you don't know the person."

On Saturday, signs along the gate surrounding the property at 1136 E. 93rd Street espoused peace, self-esteem, change, happiness, education and love.

"Visuals are really important," Chisholm-El said. "If you can see it, you can receive it."

Carolyn Jones was big on love and support, adding the sentiment to the peace wall of inspirations and tributes attendees penned and posted upon entering.

"We need more love, more caring, more sharing, more family, more togetherness than what we have today," the 28-year community resident said.

The event mixed seniors, millennials and toddlers, who all enjoyed games, music, and grilled chicken, burgers, mostaccioli and sweet potato pie.

 Longtime neighbor James Watts attended with his great-grandsons, Zhyar and Kingston Harris, ages 4 and 2.

"We try to come out and participate whenever there's anything going on in the community," he said, while Zhyar showed off his fresh face paint. "We have a lot of violence about four or five blocks down, but in here it's real nice. Most everybody knows everybody."

Toys — from tricycles to wagons to dollhouses and workbenches — were there for attendees to take, and baby items and school supplies were given away.

Anne Blair started Grant A Wish in 1981, getting her friends and colleagues to provide coats, boots and other winter items to disadvantaged youths. Since then, the center has reached about 200,000 people through its various programs, such as the baby items and back-to-school supplies provided at Saturday's event, along with holiday gifts and food giveaways at other times of the year, Chilsohm-El said.

"You want to show people love by giving them things: They remember those things; they remember being able to get some things for my infant, for my family," said Grant A Wish President Vital Thomas. 'When people see more love, they will stay away from violence, and they will think about things when confronted with a choice to make."

Victoria Hicks brought her two teenage sons, Vershad Gill, 14, and Cameron Gill, 15, out to meet new people.

"This is something to bring them to do that's positive, outside of the house and also outside of the neighborhood, just a little bit — they can get out and see some new people, some new faces, some new attitudes," Hicks said.

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.

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