handcuffs.jpgBroward County has the highest rate of juvenile arrests in Florida and that reality is the focus of Choose Peace/Stop Violence, a community movement of residents and agencies dedicated to reducing youth violence. 

The centerpiece of the initiative is Choose Peace Week, which will be observed on Sept. 19-23, with the International Day of Peace being marked on Sept. 21.

Organizations have been asked to create Peace Gardens throughout the county. Around 12 organizations have so far committed to creating new Peace Gardens or revitalize existing ones.

“We want to create a lasting awareness of the need for harmony,” Nancy Vaniman, Choose Peace/Stop Violence project

manager, said in a statement announcing activities planned for the week.

Other activities promoting peace and an end to youth violence are also being planned.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, the Urban League’s Urban Youth Green Farmers will plant trees at the Lindsay Urban Farm, a Fort Lauderdale Housing Authority community garden located on Northwest 12th Terrace between Northwest Seventh and Eighth Streets.

They will plant a papaya tree every hour and ring a bell in honor of someone who died by violence. Dozens of young urban farmers, their family and friends and residents – toddlers to retired people –  from the surrounding area will take part.

Visitors will be encouraged to visit the memorial wall established in remembrance of the victims of violence.  Residents will also be able to take away “seeds of peace” to plant at home. They may keep the plants or bring them back after the seeds have sprouted to plant in the main garden. 

Broward County Schools declared Sept. 19-23 Choose Peace Week through a resolution at the Sept. 7 of the school board meeting. A week of activities for students will include:

• Monday: All students will be asked to sign the Choose Peace Pledge.

• Tuesday: Students will be encouraged to make Pinwheels for Peace using the "Choose Peace Stop Violence" logo and "plant" them outside their schools.

•  Wednesday: Students, faculty and staff will be encouraged to wear a white shirt symbolizing peace. They will also be urged to create a Peace Garden as the school's commitment to peace. 

• Thursday: There will be individual or classroom discussion on famous peace quotes or biographies of famous peace leaders. 

• Friday: The idea is to Create a Thoughtful Deed Tree by promoting and acknowledging kind acts that encourage a peaceful school community and celebrate individual efforts to choose peace and stop violence. 

Through the YMCA’s 21st Century Program, Northeast High School will revitalize its peace garden by adding peace symbols and peace rocks and use it as a Family Strengthening Program.

Blanche Ely High School will incorporate the “Choose Peace” initiative in its Family Strengthening Event during the week. Dillard High School is likely to break ground on a Peace Garden or dedicate another peaceful space.

Memorial Health System’s Youth Force Program will plant a peace garden at Gulfstream Middle School and create a peaceful space for personal reflection and conflict resolution at its Taft Street facility.

Other groups planning activities for Choose Peace/Stop Violence Week include middle school children from Memorial Health System’s Community Youth Services. They will be joined by Choose Peace/Stop Violence staff in passing out Planting the Seeds of Peace seed cards at Publix supermarkets during the week.

The city of Coral Springs will host a Weekend of Peace from Friday, Sept. 16, to Sunday, Sept. 18. A Coral Springs International Peace Garden was planted in 2005 as a tribute to the city’s diversity and harmony and to promote peace and understanding in the area. Students, city officials and residents will host activities that promote peace and understanding and prepare the garden for the next year of service.

Lutheran Services of Florida will plant a Peace Garden on Monday at the Lippman Youth Shelter in Oakland Park.