Peace House struggling

Ashland's Peace House is dealing with a shrunken budget — mainly because of the recession — and, say its leaders, is reinventing itself to match a new generation that's not into marching and petitioning Congress on international issues, but wants to think locally, resolve conflicts in our daily lives and build sustainable community.

Located on South Mountain Avenue on the edge of the Southern Oregon University campus, the non-profit Peace House is in "a state of limbo" and has reduced staff to one paid person working four hours a week, but is not looking at going under, says volunteer Executive Director Pam Vavra.

"Peace House has been struggling for a long time," said Vavra. "The budget is the lowest since I've been here. It's mainly about the economy. We're doing a lot of cost-saving. The board is very strong, competent and aware and we're still very vital."

Board Chairwoman Valerie Muroki said the board is "rebirthing Peace House to bring into focus a new story of community, relationships and peace, to impact us and beyond us to the greater global community."

Peace House has not focused on fundraising since a big event two years ago and is now doing direct mail and e-mail appeals for funding, while it builds networks for local efforts with like-minded organizations, Vavra said.

"Peace House is in a state of limbo right now and we're searching for where the future lies. We're doing focus groups to see where is the support in the community for peace work," said Vavra.

Membership in Peace House tends to be among the over-50 group, so the board is trying to raise interest among 40-somethings, said Vavra, noting that those under 40 tend to be preoccupied with career and family.

"The whole peace movement is undergoing shifts. The peace movement and Peace House were built on mass protests and contacting Congress, but the newer generation doesn't seem interested in doing that," said Vavra.

"We're looking for a vision of what the next generation wants. Where is the energy for peace in the next generation? We haven't found that yet, so it adds a sense of uncertainty."

Peace House members have found that the next generation seems more focused on issues of community self-sufficiency and localization, Vavra noted.

"So we're working closely with Transition Town (a network dedicated to a transition to community in an era of fewer resources, heightened environmental activity and global warming). We're working with other organizations and coalitions. We find they (the newer generation) are in a different space than our founders envisioned. There's deep concern with them, for example, about hate crimes."

In the past few years, Peace House has taken a role "doing living room dialogues and healing divides locally" on such issues as past City Council dysfunction and communication problems, as well as local divides over the Israel-Palestine conflict, said Vavra.

"It's healing and dialogue work," said Vavra. "We're not focusing on the Mideast, but on how we deal with it locally and respect each other and refrain from making each other wrong."

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