Operation Respect Rock River Valley (OR RRV) was modeled after the national and international organization Operation Respect, co-founded by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary as well as Board Chair, Dr. Charlotte Frank, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, McGraw-Hill Education and former Head of Curriculum and Instruction of the largest department of education in the U.S; New York City. OR RRV was launched through the efforts of Peacebuilding Connections (project leader: Bob Schlehuber) in 2011.
By the end of August of 2011 Peacebuilding Connections approached key community leaders in health, education, philanthropy, government, nonprofit and business who all saw the wisdom of moving forward with an effort to increase respect throughout the community. OR RRV offered Operation Respect's entirely free “Don’t Laugh at Me” (DLAM) Program to the greater Rockford area.
DLAM was expanded and replicated with local leadership at an affordable cost that provided trainings to local staff developers and other qualified educators, at agencies and schools that led and implemented social and emotional learning programs. DLAM uses music and interactive lessons that address the development of the following qualities and skills among children:
- The Healthy Expression of Feelings
- Caring, Compassion, and Cooperation
- Creative Resolution of Conflicts
- An Appreciation of Differences
Operation Respect RRV held its first training at Rockford University on August 10th and 11th, 2011 for eighty community members representing over 50 organizations. Fifteen of the eighty attendees at the August training have gone through an additional training to become DLAM regional trainers, allowing local educators, school counselors, administrators, school nurses and psychologists and others in the Rock River Valley to receive effective professional development in workshops that will prepare them to implement the DLAM program and, later, to receive ongoing support and guidance from the new DLAM trainers and staff developers.
Additionally, fifteen local high school students from Jefferson, Guilford, East, Boylan, and Auburn were trained to use the lessons of Operation Respect’s DLAM program to explore the potential role of mentoring programs that might be organized in RRV. Over the summer of 2011 the fifteen students planned, organized, and taught the DLAM curriculum to forty middle school students from each of Rockford’s middle schools and with the reports from this experience being evaluated, special dimensions of youth-driven leadership efforts will be created.
In addition to the introductory two-day training in August 2011, a general awareness campaign of the project was also implemented, with OR RRV members being interviewed by WREX, WTVO, WIFR, WNTA and the Rockford Register Star. OR RRV's media campaign was coordinated with members of the YMCA, YWCA, RPS 205, Harlem School District, REA Teacher’s Union, the Regional Office of Education, Winnebago County Health Department, Rockford Police Department, Winnebago County, United Way, Hamilton Sunstrand, Bridge Ministries, Winnebago County Health Department, La Voz Latina, NAACP, Rockford College, the City of Rockford, and the Rockford Chamber of Commerce. In addition to working together to coordinate a strategic media campaign each of the executive directors from the above organizations gathered to discuss how issues of respect impacted their professional and personal lives.
Creating a local core group of volunteers along with these efforts allowed for a quick and sustainable duplication of the program’s implementation. It allowed OR RRV to offer free professional development and ongoing technical SEL support. OR RRV worked with the Winnebago County Health Department’s Violence Prevention Collaborative to oversee the managing and spreading of this community-wide grassroots and leadership-based movement.
Before the program was launched, pre-adoption of OR RRV surveys were administered at every location that intended to adopt an OR RRV curriculum and several that did not. Karen Lytwyn of the Winnebago County Health Department oversaw the administration of the survey and the processing of data.
To oversee the program, its finances, and trainers, OR RRV hired two Program Directors. Jacob Burke and Ellyn Ahmer were in charge of integrating the efforts of the various schools and other groups implementing OR RRV’s programs, as well as collecting data and other information on all programs that have been adopted under this initiative, as well as offered help to schools or other organizations that requested the DLAM curriculum. The Program Directors helped each organization prepare for the distribution and introduction of social and emotional learning to the new populations of children and youth, their teachers and other caregivers and support systems.
The Program Directors sat on the board of the Winnebago County Health Department’s Violence Prevention Collaborative, and helped in overseeing those trained as OR RRV trainers. The Program Directors worked closely with Rockford University, developing relationships and identifying best practices with Dr. Stephanie Quinn, Executive VP of Academics and Dean of Rockford University and Michelle Griggs, Director of the Kobe-Regent’s Center for Global Education.
Over time each of these partners absorbed the developed roles of Operation Respect RRV, allowing for OR RRV to dissolve naturally into the already established institutions within Rockford University.
The program Directors were also responsible for holding community roundtables that were designed to allow each project partner the opportunity to share with the group how they are supporting the Rock River Valley as well as reach out to others for what they need from the larger group. The group brought together Police, Education, Health, Church, City Government, Business, Community Centers and Social Service Agencies. Along with Peacebuilding Connections Terry White of Strategic Partners Inc. and Lewis Jordan, former President/CEO of the Cook County and Chicago Housing Authorities facilitated the roundtable meetings.
To help launch and energize the efforts behind OR RRV Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary and numerous artists held concerts and made several school visits throughout the community. Community concerts were held at the Coronado Performing Arts Center and Rockford' Davis Park featuring Peter Yarrow, Kim and Reggie Harris, and Baby Jay.