NEWBURYPORT — Not many people can come to a new area and claim to have left their mark on it just 15 years later, but as the founder of Kids as Peacemakers, a non-profit organization created to foster peace and inspire kids and teens to create a more peaceful world, Merle Forney has.
“People talk about my smile,” said Forney. “I’ve been told that I smile a lot. I’m not aware of it that much.”
Born into family with members of a peace church and the Church of the Brethren, Forney, 88, believes that peace had been bred into him.
“We’re all human and we’re all influenced by a lot of things,” Forney said. “But it comes back to my training and my life. I am turned off by violence. I had served in the Army during World War II and that, along with my church background, informed me that people should speak out and try to do something positive to counteract the negative and violence.”
A retired policy writer for the Department of Health and Human Services, Forney and his wife, Margaret, moved to Newburyport from Silver Spring Maryland in November 1998 to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren. The Forneys soon joined the Central Congregational Church and began making friends.
“I needed a hobby,” Forney admitted.
Inspired by a model developed by his former church, Forney began the Dove Campaign to support the designation of “May as Peace Month” in Massachusetts in 1999. The campaign then reached out to schools, churches and social organizations to begin designing peace murals with the words; “Kids as Peacemakers” incorporated into them and the rest is area history.
“The best way was to contact as many churches, schools and social organizations that have a teaching responsibility to children,” said Forney. “Our task was to ask that they teach their children to adopt peace and peaceful living as a way to reduce violence in the community. Kids are the best educators of their parents, and if we can get kids to be concerned about nonviolence and talking to their parents, I think there could be some progress in this area.”