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YWCA OF NIAGARA PUSHES PEACE TREND BY PLANNING WEEK TO REJECT ALL VIOLENCE

Imagine seven days of non-stop non-violence.

That's 168 hours without murder, rape or assault; 10,080 minutes of television and movies without fighting, killing or suffering; 604,800 seconds without a child learning the meaning of the word "victim."

Imagining is the first step. The second is "Can you go one week without perpetrating, participating in or observing violence?"

This is the challenge being presented by the YWCA of Niagara during its Week Without Violence from Oct. 17 to 23. During this weeklong initiative, practical and sustainable alternatives to violence will be brought to the forefront through discussions, essays, poetry, artwork and recreational events for children and adults.

Each day will feature an event aimed at heightening the public's awareness of the opportunities to prevent and avoid violence.

Debbie Layer-Menshon, public relations director of the YWCA of Niagara, said the theory behind setting aside one week is to use it as a steppingstone to gradually attain a non-violent society for 52 weeks. The key to the whole process is dialogue, she said.

"What we are trying to do is pave the way for conversations in the work place, home, social settings, churches, schools -- we need to get people talking about solutions to violence, not just about the violence that has happened."

The YWCA Week Without Violence is held annually at participating YWCAs nationwide. Now in its fifth year, Ms. Layer-Menshon said that the local Community Alliance, which is made up of local businesses, agencies and individuals, is growing.

"People are calling the YWCA to see if they can offer their assistance," she said.

This year's Week Without Violence Community Alliance includes representation from the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, the City of Lockport, the Dale Association, Eastern Niagara United Way, Lockport Public Schools, the Lockport YMCA, the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, Mary Lehmann, wife of the late Howard Lehmann, Bewley Pavement and Maintenance, Niagara County Rape Crisis Services, Family and Children's Services, Wyndham Lawn Home for Children, Lockport Mall, Phatman, Niagara County Stop DWI, the Niagara County District Attorney's Office and various churches.

The Week Without Violence will commence Sunday, Oct. 17, with "A Day of Remembrance." According to the Rev. Steve Hall, minister of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Lockport, area churches' worship services will remember victims of violence and members will pray that those who commit violent acts learn to resort to peaceful solutions.

"God did not put us on this earth to use and abuse one another," Mr. Hall said. "We all have potential and everyone should have the chance to realize their potential. Violence erodes and undermines that potential."

Mr. Hall referred to the recent shooting at the Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, and the tragedies that have occurred in schools across the country. His concern is that although more people seem to be acting violently, he doesn't want people get the impression that this is a terminally violent society.

"I don't believe we are," he said. "The Week Without Violence gives folks who have a commitment to a non-violent way of life an opportunity to give expression to that and to lend their support to the community."

A new addition to the events held during the weeklong campaign is the Peace Garden. Created by members of Leadership Niagara, the Peace Garden is located at the YWCA of Niagara at 32 Cottage St.

Recently, all fifth-grade students were asked to describe what peace means to them either in an essay or artwork. A group from Leadership Niagara will select the winning piece, which will be incorporated into the Peace Garden Oct. 18.

"We are excited about working with the students," said Michelle Bradley, member of the Leadership Niagara class of 1999 and director of staff development and community education at the Lockport City School District.

"It's important that students learn how to solve conflicts in a peaceful manner, to respect different cultures and to write about things that are relevant to them," she said.

"Making Our Schools Safer" is the focus on Oct. 19, and will feature "Stranger Danger" presentations by the Niagara County Sheriff's Department in local schools.

"Confronting Violence Against Women" will be the focus on Oct. 20. Poetry, essays and songs will be presented at Fog City coffeehouse on Market Street in Lockport, with vocalist Amy Issacs. Volunteers from various agencies will be on hand with literature about domestic violence and educational outreach.

There will also be a luncheon and book signing with Sunanda Gandhi, co-founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence at noon Wednesday at Fanny's Restaurant. Sunanda Gandhi is the wife of Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and the co-author of "The Forgotten Woman," a biography of Kastur Gandhi, wife of Mahatma Gandhi. She will address the audience on confronting violence against women.

On Oct. 21, incarcerated men will visit students at local middle schools to discuss "Facing Violence Among Men." Then on Oct. 22, "Eliminating Racism and Hate Crime" will feature readings from children's books that teach tolerance of cultural diversity, unity and non-violence to children at the Lockport Public Library and Earl Brydges Library.

Replacing Violence With Fitness and Fun for 5- to 10-year-olds will be held Oct. 23 in the YWCA Tech Center, in the Historic Post Office 1 East Ave. The program will offer various activities, including Multi-Media K.I.D. software, which encourages interaction between children and adults.

Also, from Oct. 18 to 31, Niagara County children will dedicate their walking activities to the Howard Lehmann Walk for Peace. The school whose students have the most minutes of walking logged will receive a plaque to hang in the school for the year. The class that accumulates the most minutes walked will receive a pizza party.

Kathleen Ganz, public information coordinator at the Lockport City School District, said that last year, students made a sculpture from the violent toys they turned in.

"It was really dramatic," she said.

The focal point of the sculpture was a TV set with its screen missing. All sorts of violent toys like guns, swords and a few action figure characters stuck out of the television. Looking on was a family of three in a dark silhouette wearing red broken hearts.

"This is a positive way that we can make things better," Layer-Menshon said.

"If we are just reaching one person every time we do this, it's a step in the right direction."

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