Interns: Paige Greco and Alexa Withrow
Youth Peace Leaders: Maya Pratt, Francisco Flores, Sienna DiMuro, Dylan Howard
Mentors: Ellie Goran and Jessica Moore from San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention
“I feel like it’s our duty as human beings to care for other people.”
-Maya, Youth Peace Leader
The first meeting with our Thread took place at a Starbucks in Chula Vista. Unfortunately, two of our Youth Peace Leaders were out of town so they could not come, but we still had a productive meeting getting to know one another and discussing why we are interested in the topic of Gun Violence Prevention. Our Youth Peace Leaders came from all areas of San Diego (from Vista all the way down to Chula Vista) and this geographic spread provided for a diverse range of experiences and perspectives. What struck us about our Youth Peace Leaders was their desire to do something - anything - to help this issue. While our Youth Peace Leaders shared their interest in the topic and their project ideas, the issue of school shootings came up again and again. Given the climate at schools today, this made sense.
Our Thread attended the Human Centered Design workshop hosted by SFI, which helped move along our project a great deal. The group members focused on a target audience of a potential shooter. Their “why” became focused on figuring out a way to prevent that individual from carrying out a school shooting. Our group noticed that many of the school shooters they saw on the news were socially isolated individuals, which steered their project in the direction of creating a project that would combat this social isolation. Additionally, we identified lunchtime as a time when social isolation and anxiety is common. Thus, the group created a rough outline of a “lunchbox” tool. This would include a physical lunch box with a community building activity inside and would be used as a way to reach out to socially isolated individuals.
We left the Human Centered Design workshop with the “lunchbox” idea under our belts and felt that we just needed to sort out the details. However, it became clear to the Youth Peace Leaders and Interns that carrying out this project with the intention of reaching potential school shooters specifically would become an issue of profiling. We tried to find ways in which we could do this without profiling students. Would the school have student “advocates” that identified potential shooters and then brought the lunchbox to them? Or would the responsibility of identifying these students be placed on the teachers? Administration? Our Thread quickly realized that there was essentially no way to carry out the lunchbox in this capacity. Although we realized that it would be impossible to tackle gun violence prevention in this way, we thought about an approach to reducing isolation. This meant we could address social isolation as a means of prevention and build community for all, instead of a specific individual.
"We wanted to create a community building tool for younger kids during lunchtime that prevents isolation and fosters positive emotional health."
Creating the Lunchboxes
Once we had our project idea, it was time to get to work on the planning and designing of the lunchboxes. Our goal was to create a community building tool that was fun, interactive and impactful for younger students. We needed a name, activity ideas and a clear picture of how it would work. Our first task was to decide what we would call the lunchbox or program. We all shared our ideas and then took a vote. The lunchbox program would be called commUNITY. One of our Youth Peace Leaders took on the task of designing a logo and she created a colorful design that read, “commUNITY” to be placed on the front of our lunchboxes.
Now that we had a name, we chose a target audience of 3rd-5th grade students and brainstormed age-appropriate activities. We watched YouTube videos of elementary kids playing games, read about other lunchtime programs and recalled our own experience playing activities in teams as children. We decided that we would create four “prototype” lunch boxes that included one activity and snacks within each, all with different themes. The themes included creativity, storytelling, team building and compassion. We broke out into teams to come up with four solid games and activities and write instructions that the user could understand.
Our next step was to draft a list of the materials we needed to create the games. We made a list and ordered our materials, so we could start building the lunchboxes in our next meeting. The materials included inexpensive, age appropriate items such as string, notecards, crayons, paper and cups.
At our next meeting, we took the materials and started allocating them to their lunchbox. We labeled the lunchboxes Storytelling Game, Stack a Cup Game, Create a Canvas Game and Pick a Card Game. Each of the Youth Peace Leaders took a lunchbox, began writing on the notecards and created their own lunchbox. Some of the lunchboxes, like the Pick a Card Game, required question creation and madlib answers. We had so much fun as a team creating entertaining and interesting content together for elementary level students!!
With the lunchboxes assembled, we wrote out the instructions and made final touches to each box. Everyone passed them around and made sure they weren’t missing any pieces. Our last step was to add the logo stickers to the outside. Our commUNITY lunch boxes were finally finished!
“I feel that gun violence isn’t just a mental health issue, but an emotional health issue.”
[-Francisco, Youth Peace Leader]
This Thread had many great ideas of how to scale out our project. However, one of the group’s biggest concerns was being realistic with our time and budget to create a project that we could showcase at the Summit Event. One thing we really wanted to do was prototype commUNITY in an actual school, except most schools were still on summer break at the time and those that were on a year-round schedule were hard to contact. For this reason, we were unable to prototype the lunchbox program in a school and get that valuable first-time feedback.
Despite this, we all remained incredibly inspired by the potential of commUNITY. While we originally hoped to create a larger scale project and actually implement the project into a school, we ended up with a great project idea that has a lot of room to grow. Luckily, our project remained low budget, so if any changes need to be made to the physical lunch boxes, these tweaks can be done without having a big monetary impact.
Looking back, we are glad that our Thread went through the struggle of having to rework our target audience and tweak our project multiple times. With such a sensitive and timely issue as gun violence (especially school shootings), there was surely not going to be a clear path to a project. Nonetheless, our Thread now has the experience of learning what it takes to tackle an issue like this effectively.