By Zeki Salah, Mutual Aid Collaborative Facilitator

Last summer, the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows collaboratively designed and launched seven peace building projects geared towards serving and building community with people throughout the Chicagoland area. The Peace Fellows Retreat was one of those projects and was designed to give back to the Fellows in return for all their hard work serving their communities and to strengthen relationships between the Peace Fellows.

During one of the summer project meetings, Peace Fellow Bertha Purnell expressed the need for the 2021 Fellows to take a retreat out in the woods to relax for a bit:

Sometimes things are so fast paced I need Post-it reminders as well as a calendar. The retreat was a time to slow down, breathe deep, and smell and feel the air.

Another Peace Fellow, Andrea Reed, couldn’t have agreed more:

Although, I love the work that I do and the fulfillment it brings…I am also very mindful that I need to unplug to take care of myself so that I can continue to feed into others.

During the fall, Bertha and Andrea took the lead on organizing the Retreat. Collaborating with a group of Fellows, their first goal was to find a space. In years past, other Fellows cohorts held retreats at hotels in downtown Chicago, but Bertha liked the idea of having the Fellows in nature and outside of their typical environment.

Andrea recommended the YMCA Camp Duncan Site because she had the opportunity to attend a leadership retreat there when she was student at DeVry University:

It was such a beautiful, restful and peaceful place. I always wanted to go back there, but never did. When we were discussing the need for a retreat, the words that kept coming to the surface were rest, peace, serenity which triggered my memory of Camp Duncan.

The logistics of the Peace Fellows retreat were negotiated collaboratively. Andrea showed the team pictures of the campsite to convince them it was a good location. In early December, a survey went out to all the 2021 Chicago Peace Fellows and March 18-20th was selected as the date. After a joint discussion, Fellows decided that the Retreat should focus on providing rest and reflection. Andrea and Bertha planned out snacks, activities, and other necessary supplies before sending out another survey to see what activities Fellows were interested in doing. Responses to the survey helped the Peace Fellows Retreat group plan time to enjoy nature, rest, and reflect on their time as Fellows.

Getting into nature was restorative for the Peace Fellows and helped them relax, connect with one another, and imagine new ways of engaging their communities. Andrea reported “the full breadth of this place is breathtaking and could never compare to the glitz and glamor of a swanky hotel.”

As the Fellows breathed in the fresh air they could not stop imagining the benefits this site could bring for kids. The next plan for this group is to take a few students to the campsite before the school year so they can relax and reflect as well. Andrea suggested:

“When we look for ways to reach our youth, I believe that exposing them to Camp Duncan with youth advisors who have the skill and experience in reaching our youth would prove to be very beneficial and most transformative.”