Staying at a ritzy hotel, getting swarmed by the media and an hour-long chat with Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President of Costa Rica Oscar Arias were among the highlights of the PeaceJam Heroes Luncheon in Denver last month.

Local PeaceJammers Becca Kimball, Katie Norsworthy and Colby Hinson, along with advisors Cathy Roberts and Mount View High School English teacher Janet Caldwell, headed to Colorado to accept the Global Call to Action Challenge award in mid-November. The five went to accept the award on behalf of the entire MVHS PeaceJam chapter, which includes more than 20 youths.

Mount View PeaceJammers were nominated for the award after Barry Felson, executive director 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.

In his description of the local organization, Felson marveled at how much the group had accomplished over the last four years. Felson highlighted the school gardens, PeaceJam’s partnership with the school nutrition program and its efforts to reduce food waste in the lunchroom while also promoting a school-wide recycling and composting program.

“I have had the pleasure of working with the Mount View PeaceJammers over four years,” stated Felson in a 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.”

While it’s now been more than a month since the PeaceJam Heroes Luncheon and award presentation took place, the MVHS-based organization is still buzzing about all of the excitement that has come the group’s way since they learned they had won the award in October.

And there is more excitement to be had, as an unexpected turn of events will bring a Nobel laureate to the Thorndike school this coming spring.

As part of the Global Call to Action Challenge award, MVHS PeaceJammers were to host Arias for a daylong visit. But, due to a medical issue that required Arias to have surgery in November, he was unable to visit MVHS last month as planned. Instead, Roberts said, another Nobel laureate will come to MVHS in the spring. The identity of the laureate has yet to be announced.

In preparation for the PeaceJam Heroes Luncheon, which took place Nov. 15, Kimball, Hinson, Norsworthy, Roberts and Caldwell embarked on a journey that they all described as “inspiring”.

“It was mine and Becca [Kimball’s] first time flying, so that was pretty exciting,” said Norsworthy.

The group brought with them what Caldwell described as a handcrafted inspiration flag to present to the entire PeaceJam club as a gift from the MVHS chapter. Caldwell likened the flag to a Tibetan prayer flag, in that it included squares of colorful cloth with each square carrying some message or image of peace.

Once the five arrived in Denver at about 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14, a PeaceJam official was there to greet the group and transport them to the Burnsley Hotel.

While all agreed that the accommodations were quite fancy and the attention they were receiving was somewhat surprising, the reality of what the MVHS PeaceJammers had accomplished did not hit the group until they arrived at the Denver Performing Arts Center the next day.

Caldwell said the youths crafted an acceptance speech to deliver at the awards luncheon later in the day, a task the young trio took on with gusto — even after they learned they would be speaking before an audience of more than 600 people.

After a presentation and acceptance speech that many viewers described as “seamless,” Caldwell said Arias was there on stage to present the youths with the 2010 Global Call to Action award.

Arias was a popular attraction at the event, but so were the MVHS PeaceJammers.

“There was this huge line of people who paid $50 to get their picture taken with Oscar [Arias],” recalled Norsworthy. “And we got to stand there and talk to him.”

That conversation between the MVHS PeaceJammers and Arias spanned about an hour, and the foursome spent that time talking about Arias’ work towards peace in Central America. Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1987 for his efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to years of war in his home region.

“It did not feel like an hour,” said Kimball.

“A lot of it was him talking; we’d ask him questions and he would give us these long and intricate answers,” said Hinson. “We talked a lot about Central America and what he thinks needs to happen there.”

Norsworthy said looking back on that talk with Arias, she finds it both remarkable and comical that she was having such an informal discussion with a person whose acquaintances have included people like former President Ronald Regan.

“[Arias] would just casually talk about all these meetings he’s had with other world leaders,” she said.

Following the luncheon, the MVHS PeaceJammers quickly learned that while Arias was certainly a noticeable presence at the affair, the event was all about them. Members of the media who were in attendance crowded around the MVHS PeaceJam representatives, and all were seeking interviews and comments from PeaceJam’s latest Global Call to Action award winners.

“We didn’t really understand the depth of PeaceJam until we got there,” said Caldwell, who described the entire experience as highly emotional.

Kimball said she, too, was overwhelmed by the enormity of PeaceJam worldwide, and that she was excited to meet more of her peers who share her motivation to change the world for the better.

“There were hundreds of people there, and they all cared about all the same things that we care about,” she said. “… PeaceJam has definitely shaped my life now, and it’s definitely shaping my future at this point.”

Hinson said the experience of meeting other PeaceJam groups from all over the world gave him a fresh perspective on the work he is doing with the MVHS organization.

“Mainly, for me, it’s going to help a lot as far as PeaceJam, specifically with motivation, and with ideas,” he said.

When the group of five returned from Colorado, they brought along the award that they received at the luncheon and shared their experiences with their fellow PeaceJammers.

PeaceJammer Tim Bennett said the award, and all that it means for the MVHS chapter, reminds him of all the group has accomplished in the four years since it got off the ground.

“You don’t really know how much you’ve done until you receive an award like that,” he said. “It was very surprising; it kind of came out of nowhere.”

“Getting the award really put it all into perspective for me,” added fellow PeaceJammer John Fox.