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January 20, 2021

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University hosts children's conference

Bluffton University hosted "Celebration of Peace: Beyond Borders" children's conference, Oct. 23-24 at The Lion and The Lamb Peace Arts Center. Thirty-two children from third through seventh grade participated in the conference. Bluffton students, faculty and staff and local community members served as volunteers.

"The purpose of the conference was to provide activities to raise awareness of stereotypes and labels that tend to separate people," said Louise Matthews, director of the Lion and Lamb. "It also gave the children a chance to challenge themselves to accept and appreciate the differences in their peers through communication, building relationships and learning to 'live beyond borders.'"

The first day of the conference participants were introduced to Joseph Helfrich '87, a folk singer, multi-instrumentalist and storyteller from Darke County, Ohio. Over the course of the conference, Helfrich shared his music, which included an original song composed specifically for the conference titled "Under One Sky." He also provided stories of acceptance and scripture with the children.

Other activities included a "challenge" walk at the Bluffton Nature Preserve, a global domino activity, and singing and story sharing at the Peace Thrones. Bluffton University international students led the participants in activities that took them "around the world." Children learned an Indonesian dance, played Zimbabwean games and dressed up in traditional clothing for group pictures.

Participants were given the opportunity to choose from various workshops throughout the weekend. Options included pottery making, global crafts, drumming and drama. The conference also collected school supplies to make school kits to be distributed by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the relief organization of Mennonite Church USA.

"It was a busy weekend, but the children and volunteers alike learned a lot about peace building and living beyond borders," said Matthews. "It was a huge success."

Bluffton has hosted similar events in the past, which have been scheduled every two to three years. This is the fifth overnight children's conference sponsored and hosted by The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center of Bluffton University since its founding in 1987 by Dr. Libby Hostetler.