“A waterfall comes from one drop of water.”

This is the opening statement of a five-minute video, now posted on YouTube, describing the four-year history of the Mount View High School-based PeaceJam group. The opening statement, said PeaceJam adviser Cathy Roberts, is aimed at demonstrating how one person — or one small group in a corner of rural Maine — can make a difference.

The video was made as part of the MVHS PeaceJam’s entry for the 2010 Global Call to Action Challenge Award. Roberts said the nomination for the local organization came last month, after Barry Felson, executive dDirector of NextGen Leaders, the PeaceJam Northeast affiliate, took notice of the continuity the local group showed in its Global Call to Action directive, eliminating extreme poverty.

Since the local PeaceJam chapter held its first meeting in 2006, it has done much to that end. PeaceJammers have planted vegetable gardens on the neighboring Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association grounds in 2006, and distributed the organic produce to local food pantries and eventually, to the school lunch program. Those gardens have since expanded, and are now located at the new MVHS complex.

In the winter of 2009, PeaceJam members conducted a dumpster dive. Staff from the Newforest Institute in Brooks and the Unity Recycling Center assisted PeaceJammers in that effort. Once the sorting was done and the bags of trash, recyclables and waste foods were weighed, PeaceJam used the data to plan a waste-sorting system for a recycling and composting program that is now ongoing at MVHS.

PeaceJam has built a partnership with Kinney’s Organic Industrial Composting Farm and Sullivan’s Waste Disposal to help with compostables, which will eventually be used to aid growth in future PeaceJam gardens.

PeaceJam has also worked closely with Regional School Unit 3 Nutrition Director Cherie Merrill in recent years, which has resulted in the district’s putting 40 percent of its nutrition budget back into the local economy and an overall increase in school lunch participation.

All of that work did not go unnoticed, and that was demonstrated Monday, Oct. 18. That was when the 20 students who are part of the MVHS PeaceJam group were named the winners of the national Global Call to Action Challenge award. They were surprised with the news during an assembly at MVHS, which was billed as a pep rally.

As a reward for their efforts, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will spend an entire day with the PeaceJam group at MVHS. Arias will also honor the students and school leadership at the annual PeaceJam Hero Awards Luncheon Monday, Nov. 15, in Denver.

The excitement built as PeaceJam advisers Roberts and MVHS English teacher Janet Caldwell gathered near the administrative offices with MVHS Principal Lynda Letteney and RSU 3 Superintendent Heather Perry. PeaceJam supporter Barbara Goodbody, who works with the Maine Community Foundation, also joined the gathering, as did Felson.

When asked how difficult it was to keep the PeaceJam award under wraps for the better part of a week, Roberts said it was very hard for her, but more so for Caldwell. As a teacher at MVHS, Caldwell said, she had to find new ways to deny having any knowledge of the award.

“I had to keep denying that I knew anything,” said Caldwell. “The students, I think, suspected, but we kept the secret.”

Caldwell said she noticed that at least three of the PeaceJammers donned their PeaceJam T-shirts for good luck, in hopes that the assembly was intended to announce the winner of the award.

Once the students filed into the gymnasium, Letteney opened the assembly with brief remarks about some of the school’s upcoming athletic events. From there, Letteney said she was not going to explain why the students were really gathered, but urged them to watch and listen as a screen behind her began displaying the music video of Nickelback’s “If Everyone Cared.”

“This video is about when one person decides that things can be done differently,” said Letteney.

Through the music, the video highlighted people like Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams, whose fight for peace came after seeing three children killed after being struck by a car that was operated by Irish Republican Army fugitive Danny Lennon, who was later shot by British authorities.

Williams helped start Community of Peace People, and one of the things she is best-known for is the peace march she co-organized that led to the graves of the three children. That march drew more than 10,000 people, but after protesters from the IRA disrupted that demonstration, Williams helped organize a second event the following week. The next march drew more than 35,000.

When the music faded and the video ceased, Felson came to the podium and told the MVHS student body that the local PeaceJam group had been selected for the 2010 Global Call to Action Challenge award.

Felson noted how their work stood out over thousands of other entries from across the country, and how the impact of their projects will be evident for years to come.

“I have had the pleasure of working with the Mount View PeaceJammers over four years,” stated Felson in the Global Call to Action press release, “and have watched both the project and the youth blossom. They have impressed me since day one, and continue to demonstrate what a committed group of youth can accomplish. I’m delighted that they are receiving this honor — they really deserve it.”

PeaceJammers were visibly pleased with the announcement, hugging one another and exchanging joyful glances as the assembly wrapped up.

“It feels like we’ve definitely made a difference,” said PeaceJammer Becca Kimball. “It feels like we’ve actually done something that means something to other people.”

Caldwell referred to the MVHS video history, and the featured quote regarding the origin of a waterfall.

“They say a waterfall starts with one drop of water, and that’s what we’ve seen here,” she said. “A few kids and a single idea is what led to all of this.”

Caldwell noted that the school cafeteria is now serving dishes featuring local beef and fresh vegetables, and now, the district is looking at purchasing local eggs.

Roberts added that the PeaceJam projects have dovetailed in a way that has raised school-wide awareness among students about where their food comes from. She said it has also increased opportunities for students to learn how to compost and recycle through daily visits to the lunchroom, as they must work with PeaceJammers to do the sorting themselves.

“It puts the responsibility on them,” Roberts said.

Felson said the MVHS group was the obvious choice for the award, largely because of the longevity of the GCA projects, and how they have built upon each other over the years.

“Most groups don’t stay with something for four years,” he said.

Felson said when he saw PeaceJam’s efforts to recycle and compost much of the cafeteria waste, he was especially impressed to see that 70 percent of the lunchroom waste was getting diverted for some kind of reuse. Felson said the result of that project has also been that the school is saving money, and noted that the group’s work with the school nutrition department has resulted in giving students healthier choices.

“This wasn’t just a little project, this had a huge impact,” said Felson.

Despite the day’s excitement, PeaceJammers promptly went to work planning the trip to Colorado, which Roberts, Caldwell and at least three PeaceJammers will attend next month. Later in the week, the group will meet to discuss plans for Arias’ visit to MVHS Tuesday, Nov. 16.

Anyone wishing to support the PeaceJammers’ efforts to raise the funds needed to cover the trip to Colorado next month is asked to contact Roberts at peacepreserves@gmail.com.