Catching up with a fast-growing TREE

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Centre for Peace Advancement Program Assistant, Sophia Pettit, recently sat down with Laurel Boytim, Executive Directorand Lead Facilitator of The Ripple Effect Education (TREE), to catch up onthe growing ways that TREE is advancing peace in our community. TREE offers vital programs and workshops for youth, adults, and children, focusing on conflict resolution, social justice,and peacebuilding. These initiatives are delivered in a range of settings such as classrooms, workplaces, and community organizations, inspiring individuals to embrace their differences rather than using them as a source of harm and conflict.

Joey, Emily and Laurel at The Urgency of Social Justice event

A dedicated group of volunteer facilitators have joined the team this Fall todeliver classroomworkshops in local elementary schools. “We have a beautifully diverse group of volunteer facilitators on our TREE team,” Laurel shared. After completing a 15-hour training session, volunteers facilitate classroom workshops in which they receive ongoing support and mentorship that aids them in their professional development. "We build a collaborative relationship with our facilitators as we all learn and grow together as a team.”  This Fall, three returning facilitators and five new facilitators have joined the team. Of these eight, four are students. Some of the degrees our facilitators have, or are working on, are Peace and Conflict Studies, Psychology, Social Development Studies, Gender and Social Justice, Knowledge Integration, Political Science, Religion, Culture, and Global Justice, Business, International Education Studies, and Education.”

TREE iscurrently working in 16 different classrooms.“Our second Classroom Workshop Series for the year, which starts in November, already has 22 classrooms signed up, for a series of five workshops per classroom,” Laurel said.

This year's group of Peace Innovators.

This year's Kindred Peace Innovators Scholarship and Mentoring Program, organized by the team at TREE, is actively empowering 13 high school students to create meaningful and lasting change. They are passionately working to find ways to bring peace, equity, and inclusion to the social justice problems impacting their communities, including mental health, lack of housing, racism, and lack of support for 2SLGBTQIA+ students in schools.

While TREE got its start with school workshopsin 2014and this is the 7th year of the Peace Innovators program, their reach has been expanding in some exciting new directions.For example, Workplace workshopsprovide an entirely different kind of opportunity to make an impact. “I just delivered two virtual workshops for IDEX (who have staff in Canada, the US, and Sweden) to celebrate Coming Out Day by Inviting In,” Laurel noted. “Inviting In” refers to the idea that individuals should be able to choose whether they want to share their sexuality and gender identity with someone else.

Peace innovators at the two-day retreat.

"TREE has also been involved in some amazing events in the past weeks,” Laurel recalled. These events included a booth at the Urgency of Social Justice event at the University of Waterloo, where Emily Dorey, TREE’s Manager of Programs,talked about the organization’s inspiring work. TREE also participated in the Children and Youth Planning Table (CYPT) Belonging Expoand the Volunteer Fair at the UWaterloo. Additionally, team membersattended the Truth and Reconciliation Event on the UWaterloocampus, hosted by Elders, staff, faculty, and students, seeking to learn and act towards reconciliation, relationship-building, decolonization, and Indigenization. For Peace Week, Laurel and the team at TREE hosted an interactive zine event, in which members of theUWaterloocommunity created art representingthe themeCelebration of Differences.

Photo taken by TREE at UWaterloo's National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event.

Striving to amplify its reach and impact, TREE willbeparticipating in a variety of eventsin the near future,such as the Community Connections Conference hosted by the Child & Adolescent Research Lab at Wilfrid Laurier University, the Building Community: It’s More Than Housing event, and the Community Workers Sharing Circle atCrow Shield Lodge.

Finally, the organization is getting ready to launch their Training for Trainers Program in November – a virtual facilitator training course with access to classroom curriculum and monthly community of practice meetings. “We see this being useful for teachers, child and youth workers, guidance counsellors, social workers, parent volunteers, and charitable or nonprofit organizations who see the benefit of teaching our curriculum to their students or clients,” Laurel explained.

Laurel and Emily at TREE booth

Laurel has a Master of Peace and Conflict Studies (MPACS) degree, as well as extensive experience in conflict resolution, mediation, restorative justice, universityteaching, andtrauma-informed yoga. With her deepknowledge andeducation, Laurel and the team at TREE create a safe space for social-emotional and self-reflective learning. “We seek to help folks create workplaces, classrooms, and communities where all identities are invited in and thrive, privilege and power are shared, difference is celebrated, conflicts are resolved in a healthy and holistic way, and all identities experience a sense of belonging,” Laurel shared.

By: Sophia Pettit