Orinda Children Deliver 300 ‘Peace Kits’ to Paradise Students Impacted by Fires

(Contributed Photo)
Children from Ponderosa Elementary School explore items in their Peace Kits with the help of an Orinda Union School District student.

    Scented eye pillows, beaded breathing wands, friendship bracelets, small journals and hand-stuffed animals. These were some of the items Orinda school children made and took to Paradise school children displaced by last year’s Camp Fire.
    The fire destroyed Ponderosa Elementary School in Paradise (Butte County) with the 250 children and staff relocated to Durham Elementary School in Durham. Not only did these children lose their homes, but they also lost one of the stabilizing influences in their lives – their school.
    “The social and emotional impacts of the fires will be around for a long time to come,” says Orinda Rotary Club President John Donnelly. “Rotary Clubs all across Northern California contributed generously in the immediate aftermath of the fires, providing the children with school supplies and books. We are very pleased to join with Paradise Rotary and the Orinda Union School District (OUSD) to help the children heal emotionally as well.”
    To that end, students, teachers and board members from OUSD, accompanied by members from the Rotary clubs of Orinda and Paradise, who sponsored the project, and members of the nonprofit Mindful Littles caravanned to Butte County to deliver 300 “peace kits” on April 9. Children at all of the Orinda Schools assembled the kits as a community service project under the direction of Tanuka Gordon of Mindful Littles.
    “I participated in both the making and distribution of the OrindaCares peace kits with our OUSD students,” says parent and OUSD Board President Hillary Weiner. “The kits were filled not just with mindfulness tools, but also handwritten heartfelt notes from OUSD students. It was inspiring to watch our OUSD 5th and 8th graders show the Ponderosa Elementary students how to use the tools in the kits, like the rainbow beads and the gratitude journals. I was also quite moved to see the Ponderosa students read the OUSD students’ notes.”
    In addition to the peace kits, Mindful Littles staff, volunteers and OUSD students led 30 to 40-minute training sessions on relaxation exercises, breath control, how different parts of the brain control instinctive versus thoughtful reactions to experiences and on attitudes of mindfulness and gratitude. Students were asked to discuss and write down in a journal people and things in their lives for which they are grateful.
    “It was really a moving experience to visit the students and staff from Ponderosa Elementary school. Despite being displaced from their own school site, you could feel the strong sense of school identity and the power of their community,” adds Weiner. “They expressed so much gratitude for the first responders, their teachers and just for having a safe place to go to school.”
    Proponents of the program hope the children will continue using the methods they learned to help them better manage their stress responses and to move forward as their families and the town of Paradise continue to rebuild.
    “I want our OUSD students to know that when bad things happen, good people step up to help,” says Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Seaton. “We are so grateful to the Rotary Clubs of Orinda and Paradise for funding this impactful project and Tanuka Gordon and her Mindful Littles team for their vision, persistence and passion that brought the Peace Kits for Ponderosa to fruition.”

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