The Fiorentina Pears and a Bridal Bag were Family Traditions – ProJo

Posted on October 8, 2014
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Grandma spoke of “Papa’s pears” with reverence. The fruit trees that lined the walkway to Grandpa’s garden created a canopy that overheard family secrets and stories including our favorite — the pears for newlyweds. Grandma said that in her Italian village when young people married and moved from the farms “to set up house,” her mother would bring them a basket of pears. Since pear trees live for 250 years, these were wishes for a long, happy life together.

In this country, Gram kept up the spirit of tradition. Each fall she lined the pantry with jars for her pears in brandy. She made up a simple mixture of boiled sugar to which she added bay leaves and brandy and then the cored and sliced pears.

Each year at pear time, soft-spoken Gram would raise her voice.

“Anthony, Anthony,” she would call out. “That brother of yours was back in my pantry again. He knew I was making the pears and look at how much brandy he drank. I’m telling you, it’s time to talk with him.”

“Aspetta, my little sweetheart. I bought more brandy just for you.”

Grandpa’s little sweetheart was about 4 feet 10 inches tall and just as wide. They would kiss. She would smile then sigh. “Imagine he drinks the newlyweds’ brandy for their pears of long life.”

Grandma believed “Papa’s pears” were descendents of the Fiorentina pears, which her mother had received as a gift from relatives in Umbria, about three hours from their village in the Avellino region. The Fiorentina pear tree is often depicted in Renaissance paintings.

Since family weddings took place in the summertime, Grandma and Grandpa waited until the fall to visit newlyweds at their home. She packed jars of pears in a large basket and on top of the jars rested a small tray of her biscotti sprinkled with sugar-coated almonds and silver stands of tinsel — a miniature of their wedding tray.

At Italian weddings newlyweds passed a large tray of cookies to guests. The bride always had a drawstring satin pouch swinging from her wrist. When relatives took the cookies, they handed the bride an envelope with cash, saying, “Put this in your bag to help you set up house.”

Immediately after the exchange of cookies and envelopes, Gram nudged Grandpa. On cue, he stood up, lifted his wine glass and began his toast. “Here’s to the bride and the groom. I want you both to look around at all of your family. My wife just reminded me to tell you that marriage is for richer, for poorer. Even on days when you feel poor, remember this moment. Here you have surrounding you the riches of family. Salute.”

Rita Esposito Watson, a Providence Journal and columnist, is writing, “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Rita Watson: ‘Papa’s pears’ upheld family traditions

Learn to be giving: 10 relationship tips, Projo

Posted on September 15, 2014
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We have all been to parties where we envied those lovey-dovey couples and their public display of affection. And sometimes, in the same room, there was the silent-treatment pair making everyone in their company feel uncomfortable.

Recently, researchers have been highlighting relationships, and one study reveals that givers have a greater chance at happiness than takers. Givers are generous with kisses, kindness and words. On the flip side are the withholders, those who give the cold shoulder to their partners.

The successful principle of giving without expecting anything in return has been studied in business culture —researchers found that givers shared more important information as well as resources, while takers kept it all to themselves — and it applies equally to couples’ relationships.

Now let’s look at those silent treatment couples. Here, studies have shown that that there are harmful consequences when one person in a relationship shuts down. There is no giving; there is just withdrawing. Nonetheless, this is one of the most common ways married couples deal with conflict.

Here are the top 10 secrets to strengthening love provided by relationship experts:

In a love relationship, learn the value of “we” to help strengthen connections, says Dr. Karen Skerrett of Northwestern University. The book “Positive Couple Therapy: Using We-Stories to Enhance Resilience,” which Skerrett co-authored, points out that couples who create mutual stories and share them with family and friends develop “a sense of mutuality” that helps foster lifelong love.

Rita Watson, MPH, is a relationship columnist for All About You and writes the “With Love and Gratitude” column for

Rita Watson: Learning to give can strengthen your love:  Published on 24 August 2014

Italian kisses: Celebrating the feast of family and food, Projo

Posted on September 15, 2014
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Our grandmother disliked crowds, even those that gathered to honor the saints. When September’s “la festa de San Gennaro” approached — a large Italian street festival of music, games and food — Gram planned a gathering of some 30 relatives for cooking, eating, playing bocce and building sand castles. She said we could not attend the feasts until we were tall enough to see over the heads of the crowd.

The city feast that began in Naples was transported to Italian-American neighborhoods and featured the saint’s statue being carried through the streets. At our house, there was no saint to be lifted onto men’s shoulders, just buckets of sand from under the dock to our front lawn so that we could build our sand village. While the men gathered sand, we went with aunts and cousins to the gardens to pick the last of the escarole, cabbage and kale to make “minestra,” a greens and beans staple for the first September chill.

As Gram and our aunts cooked, Grandpa and the men prepared the bocce court, a patch of soil about 16 feet long by about 8 feet wide. With balls made of metal, the game was like bowling without the pins.

When the sun began to set over the water, Grandpa moved his Victrola (a record player that had to be cranked up) to the side porch so we could listen to Italian music from his 78 RPM records. Then he hung colored Christmas lights over the grape arbor saying: “Eh, bravo. Now it looks like the Italian feast.”

Once we all took our place at the picnic tables, we bowed our heads as he thanked God for family and food. Then Grandma and our aunts came along to place a large frizelle in everyone’s dish. The thick crusty slice of Italian bread seemed lonely until it was smothered by a hefty ladle of “minestra.” Later the tables were cleared for gobs of homemade gelato as Grandpa and the men turned on the Christmas lights over the bocce court. Then they poured themselves wine and raised their glasses, saying “Salute.”

We all moved onto the porch to watch and cheer on the teams. Smiling from her rocker, Gram nodded her head contentedly. Then she said, “If all those people at the city festival knew about this day, they would wish they could be here. If you went to the city, you would have missed all of this. Sometimes you will have wishes that may not come true. Instead of pouting, create a better memory. Look around you. We have colored lights, good food, relatives and music. Today while the city celebrates San Gennaro, we are celebrating the feast of family.”

Published: September 07, 2014 01:00 AM /Rita Watson: Celebrating the feast of family and food


Rita Esposito Watson is a relationship columnist for All About You and She is writing a book, “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Summer afternoon under the grape arbor, ProJo

Posted on August 30, 2014
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The grape arbor at Gram and Grandpa’s house was a welcome retreat at the end of the day. The rich royal-purple Concord grapes were plump and succulent. Grandpa’s grapes became his wine, which he enjoyed every afternoon at 4 o’clock. While neighbors complained about the August heat, Grandma reminded us to think about what we loved most about the month. That was easy — sitting under the grape arbor watching them taste wine from the first jug of the season and thinking about Grandma’s jams, Italian wine-dunking biscotti, and her espresso- and wine-laced tomato sauce.

While neighbors would sit on the porches looking at the still ocean, which seemed like a sea stuck in time, Gram would take us to the grape arbor. She would remind us of all the work that went into building the grape-leave canopy. Each day she would find a different way to retell the story, from planting to putting in the posts that the vines hugged.

We would spend hours under a giant weeping willow tree, where we played house, and parted the branches that became our door, to watch Grandpa tending the grape arbor. He explained to us that we had the most special of all grapes growing right in our yard. And Gram’s Concord grape jam was a treasured gift.

She and Grandpa would sit under the arbor, taste the wine, and say always to each other, “Yes, this is by far the best.” Then they would dip Italian biscuits shaped like small doughnuts into the wine. After a bite or two followed by another sip, Grandpa uttered a loud, “Ah bravo. Nancy, this is like wine and food from the old country.”

One day we asked Gram, “Does it really get better each year?”

Gram answered, “If Papa thinks this is the best year, and it makes him happy to believe it, then ‘yes’ this is best wine ever. When you get married remember that sometimes it is easier to say ‘yes’ and then just believe. Papa works so hard to tend to those grapes and it takes so many steps to make the wine that the flavor brings joy to him. Who knows? Maybe this wine is the best ever.”

That afternoon she asked with a twinkle in her sapphire shining eyes, “Is this the best ever jam that I have made for you?”

Someone brought me wine dipping biscuits last week and I vowed to go through my sister’s attic of photographs to find one of Gram and Pa sitting at the large picnic table shaded by grape leaves and smiling. And if I don’t find such a picture, this memory — as vivid as a painting — will remain the best ever.

Rita Esposito Watson, an All About You relationships columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”  Copyright 2014 Rita Watson


Rita Watson: That summer afternoon was the best ever

Rita Watson: Clamming, zucchini flowers and lots of love from Gram and Papa

Rita Watson: Uncle Albert ensures 104-year-old great nonna’s proper burial

Rita Watson: Grandpa’s garden was a family ritual

Rita Watson: At Easter, Grandma always held tight to culinary throne

Love and social media: It’s complicated, Projo

Posted on August 30, 2014
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There was once a time when we dated and mated within a familiar social circle. People relied on family and friends to introduce them to a potential partner. Then the world of social media came upon us. Those suspicious of online matchmaking found a friendlier atmosphere on Facebook as a way to romance. But life on Facebook has its downside. Last month its happiness study came under fire for being unethical, and articles about how the site could make us sad began to resurface. Researchers have determined that excessive time on Facebook might trigger snooping, jealousy, cheating and even divorce.

The Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking explained last year that the more often one party in a relationship uses Facebook, the more they also monitor their partner’s behavior. This opens the door for the green-eyed monster. So if you interpret your partner’s Facebook friends as flirting, you might begin flirting as well.

 Most say it’s harmless. But it’s not. What tends to happen is that flirting and jealousy can easily slide into emotional infidelity, the slippery slope that leads to intimacy with a relationship intruder.

The snooping problem was reported in “Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners” from the Interactive Media Institute in San Diego. With more than 900 million people worldwide actively using the site, reports say that at least one-third are checking out what their former romantic partners are up to. This can undermine the healing ability of broken-hearted lovers, keeping them from moving on. And it also may fuel jealousy.

If you think a spouse or lover is cheating you are probably right; intuition is powerful. However, you might be wrong, as sometimes a behavior change indicates a person in the throes of depression.

Bottom line is this — never stoop to snoop. It puts you on the same level as the person whom you think is cheating, since you are both sneaking around.

For someone suspicious of a spouse or lover, instead of stooping to snoop, take the risk of talking — quietly, rationally, and thoughtfully. Explain that you feel as if there is a problem and ask what the two of you might do to work together towards a solution.

With any relationship in a rocky place you have options with forgiveness and facts. If you are forgiving, you might choose to stay in the relationship with integrity. Or with the facts, even if these prove to be devastating, you can work to repair the relationship or leave with dignity.

With any relationship quandary, when you are seeking a solution, instead of relying on social media, consider the value of a face-to-face meeting. Looking into someone’s eyes and talking is a method that has worked for centuries.

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for “All About You” and

Rita  Watson: Love and social media is a …

… Rita Watson: Love and social media is a complicated mix/ Published on 27 July 2014

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson

Clamming and zucchini flowers of love, ProJo

Posted on August 30, 2014
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Periwinkle snails, clams, and batter-fried zucchini flowers might seem like an odd combination, but in the world of Grandma and Grandpa, these spelled summer love. The front lawn of their house bordered a rock pile wall with a small dock. The back yard beyond the grape arbor was a huge garden of vegetables. On days when Grandpa would take us to gather periwinkles and go clamming, we knew that Gram would be in the garden picking zucchini flowers.

We loved clamming time with Grandpa at low tide on sandbars teaming with life. Before heading out Gram reminded us, “Now stay close to Papa.” And he answered, “Nancy, please, you teach them cooking. I teach them clamming.”

We raced to the beach stairs at the water’s edge because at the end we knew we would find hundreds of periwinkles, tiny black snails hugging the giant rocks and dock pilings. When we had filled three hefty buckets Grandpa would let us sit on the dock while he carried the buckets to the kitchen pantry.

Then it was clamming and mud time. “When you see that water squirting, you know it’s a clam,” was Grandpa’s mantra.

He used a tool to get to the clams, but we used our hands and small shovels. And each time we pulled up a clam, Grandpa’s voice rang out, “Eh, bravo.” But part of sandbar fun was to squish our feet in the cool, jet black mud where the clams nestled.

Once back home with overflowing buckets of clams, there Gram was smiling and waving her bar of Castile soap. “Into the outdoor shower you go.” While we dried off and dressed under the grape arbor, she went to the kitchen to make us zucchini flowers, dipped in egg, flour and milk — which turned crunchy in her huge black frying pan. After devouring the delicacy, we rested until dinner.

First course on clamming day was the periwinkle challenge. After boiling them for two to three minutes, Grandpa carried a large plate to the table and gave us toothpicks to pull them out of their shells and dip into hot butter. As we poked at the periwinkles, while Gram boiled the pasta for spaghetti and clams, she came to sit with us, asking: “Which of you threw the mud first?” We shrugged. “Who did Grandpa raise his voice to first? We lowered our eyes.

That’s when Gram said, “Just because Papa bellows, he still loves you, but he wants you to behave. Sometimes his raised voice means love. Everyone shows love in different ways. Love can be with zucchini flowers, periwinkles, or clams. But always it is a hug.”

Then, while Gram and Papa laughed contagiously, they enfolded us into their arms.

Rita Watson, an All About You relationship columnist, is writing “Italian Kisses: Gram’s Wisdom.”

Rita Watson: Clamming, zucchini flowers an …

… Rita Watson: Clamming, zucchini flowers and lots of love from Gram and Papa

Published on 13 July 2014/ Copyright 2014 R ita Watson

Mindfulness: Freedom to live in the moment (ProJo)

Posted on August 30, 2014
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When a panorama of starbursts brightened the night sky, my mother explained that the dazzling display was for my birthday. Fireworks can transfix us for hours. Yet, in our multi-tasking world we often find it difficult to focus for even 10 minutes on someone we love.

Mayo Clinic’s Health Letter, highlighting mindfulness, discusses a practice for staying in the moment. In talking with Rhode Island Poet Laureate Rick Benjamin, I came to see that poetry also supports a mindfulness and freedom through the use of words.

The meaning of freedom can range from national Independence Day gratitude to breaking free of worn out relationships, prejudices and anger. I was invited to one of Benjamin’s workshops and, as a prelude to a discussion on enemies, he recited “Red Brocade” by Naomi Shihab Nye. Then after asking us to write a poem about an enemy — real or perceived — he admitted: “There was an enemy once in my family. I forgave him. We are now friends.” For Benjamin that might have been Independence Day.

In relationships today independence might also mean breaking free of the digital devices that invade our homes and even special times together. Have you ever watched what happens to a couple during a romantic dinner when a cell phone rings? In the split second to answer or turn it off, the mood is shattered. Strengthening a relationship takes work and focus.

These tips can be helpful:

Let go of anger and remind yourself often that in relationships it takes honesty to face the enemy within, courage to say “I’m sorry,” and wisdom to embrace.

Develop an attitude of gratitude rather than taking love for granted.

Smile often during the day — at friends, family, and strangers.

Look into their faces and silently wish blessings.

Practice mindfulness when you walk, eat, and when you find moments to be alone. Mindfulness fosters the freedom to be in the moment and not anticipate what might happen next. I still remember that day after the fireworks my father took us for a ride on the Flying Horses. I was expecting everyone in town at the fireworks display would be wishing me “Happy Birthday.” After telling this to my father he just smiled. Moments later the carousel operator came by to say, “This next ride is for your birthday.”

As we grow older, we have no buffer to mitigate disappointment and regret. We become responsible for our own freedom, our own joy. Savoring each moment frees us from distraction as well as fretting about the past and worrying about the future. Additionally, mindfulness creates a place in our hearts for acceptance and gratitude, and it gives us the ability to give someone we love our undivided attention.

Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for the Journal and

Rita Watson: Gratitude and kindness are … /  Rita Watson: Gratitude and kindness are like shields against debt and greed

Published in Providence Journal on 01 June 2014 / Copyright 2014 Rita Watson

The Disappointment Dilemma

Posted on August 26, 2014
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The Disappointment Dilemma


Disappointment can be a fleeting feeling or it can be haunting. This failure of expectation is perplexing because in most situations another person is involved that shatters one’s hopes or expectations. Remember the senior prom and the excitement of picking out the perfect dress? Then the feelings that flooded you when you learned that your best friend already bought it.  Or what about the young woman who expects that she will be seeing a sparkling diamond for their birthday and receives theatre tickets instead? With disappointment there are multiple layers of sadness.


The feeling of disappointment is oftentimes best expressed in a picture.  After the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split, the media ran photo after photo of the disappointed look on daughter Suri’s face with her mother said “No” to a puppy. Holmes became a sharp contrast to Disneyland Dad who apparently says, “Yes, Princess” to whatever Suri, age 6, wishes.


But in life we do not always get what we want and so we are stuck with the disappointment dilemma which affects us on three different levels — expectation preparation, immediate letdown, aftermath decisions.


Expectation preparation: The major problem with disappointment is that we are unable to prepare for it, whereas, we are able to invest emotional and physical energy in expectation. A bride who is left at the altar has spent months overseeing preparations for a party and emotional energy looking forward to the day.  But even if it is a birthday celebration or a dinner event, the person who is ultimately disappointed was prepared to


The immediate letdown: This often one in which a person feels as if they were kicked in the stomach.  But because someone else is in control, the person who is hurt can do little more than make some feeble statement such as, “It’s all right, I understand.”  In fact, in many cases, it is not all right, and you don’t understand.


The feeling of disappointment is oftentimes best expressed in a picture.  After the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes split, the media ran photo after photo of the disappointed look on daughter Suri’s face with her mother said “No” to a puppy. Holmes became a sharp contrast to Disneyland Dad who apparently says, “Yes, Princess” to whatever Suri, age 6, wishes so she will never be disappointed.  But in this world called life, disappointments happen.


There is a double sadness, one of hurt and one of sadness that your best friend or beau missed the cues – cluelessly or deliberately.


Aftermath decision: If a person in our lives disappoints us once or twice it might be understandable.  But what happens if it becomes a pattern?  It can only become a pattern if you allow it to happen.  To protect yourself and maintain self-respect, say something, in a kind but firm way.  If you lose your friend because he or she is insulted, then they weren’t your friend.  Have a good cry. Then move on with gratitude.

A wedding gift from Frank Sinatra, Projo

Posted on May 27, 2014
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When news surfaced that the man with the golden voice had whispered his last words, the local media contacted my parents. Vince Esposito, my father, had been Frank Sinatra’s sound consultant. I can still hear my mother’s voice quivering that mid-May 1998 when she called: “Frank is gone. Daddy is beside himself. The TV stations are calling us. You need to come home. And be sure to wear your engagement ring. I already told them the story.”

What came to be called “the story” was played out in New York where I had been living. My father was there for a rehearsal with Ol’ Blue Eyes. I stopped by to say hello to them on the way to meet my fiancé to pick out an engagement ring.

At the studio I gave the guard my name and explained why I was there unexpectedly. He motioned to a member of Frank’s team who stage-whispered: “Hey Vince, some doll claiming to be your daughter is here.”

Within minutes Jilly Rizzo appeared and, in his familiar body-guard monotone voice said, “She is his kid. Now show some manners.”

It was a brief visit with my dad, Frank and Jilly. But when I said I was off to Tiffany’s, Jilly and Frank exchanged a glance. Then Jilly handed me an address and said, “Go upstairs. Knock twice. Wait. Knock twice again. He’ll be expecting you.”

I called my beau who grumbled that Harvard MBAs do not shop in the jewelry district. But he relented. Once inside the man said nothing. He simply opened a black velvet pouch of rock garden-size diamonds and poured them onto a velvet tray. I shook my head, “Too big.” The jeweler turned and went to a black wall phone. We heard him say, “Jilly, she doesn’t want them.”

He returned to the counter and took out a pouch of smaller diamonds. Again I shook my head, but this time I asked to see rubies. He brought us to another room and rested a tray of red gems on the case. “That’s the one, the ruby set in platinum circled by diamond chips,” I gushed.

Anxious to leave, my beau took out his checkbook. The jeweler went to another wall phone and raising his voice said, “Get, Jilly. What she wants is a kids’ ring.” After a few minutes he turned to us saying, “OK, it’s yours. And as for your check, no money changes hands here.”

My beau in his three piece pin-stripped suit stiffened. “The Watsons always pay; this is a purchase.”

I pleaded, “Please, a price.”

“Sure. Six-five-zero.” The check was written. The ring was placed on my finger. The two men nodded. We turned to leave.

With the jeweler behind us, we walked toward the door. I glanced back for a split second and saw the expressionless man tearing up the check. Then raising his right arm above his head, he flicked his wrist, opened his hand, and confetti floated all around me. Suddenly, I felt like a bride.

Rita Watson is an All About You relationship columnist.

Providence Journal link: Rita Watson: A sentimental wedding present …

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson

The spirituality of non-violence, ProJo

Posted on May 4, 2014
Filed Under Providence Journal - Health | Leave a Comment

Nonviolence is a form of spirituality 

Spirituality takes many forms in people’s lives. Teny Oded Gross, executive director of the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence, finds spirituality in working with young people who had been members of gangs.

“We are surrounded by spirituality and beauty if we allow ourselves to see it,” he says. “The institute’s work is about love and beauty, these kids don’t see hope. Many don’t think they will live beyond the age of 20. But once they feel that life is worth living, they remove themselves from risky behavior.”

Q: Nonviolence is a challenge in today’s society. What strategies do you use to bring together so many different people under an umbrella of peace?

A: You assume that underneath, we all want the same thing — to grow safely, happily, and be fulfilled, whether you are a cop, a judge, a mother or a gang member. But if you try to build bridges, you find that people are afraid to give up their power. They don’t want to look soft or naive. Here our deputy chief of police sits with our young people. At our table our assistant director of training can be sitting next to someone worth millions and someone who has just come out of jail. Both have something to learn from each other, and that’s the beauty.

Q: How do you perceive nonviolence as spirituality?

Just listen to the words of Pope Francis, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, the Dali Lama, Jesus. Moses said people had to get away from the tribe to get their heads together. There is a way to calm things down and change when you are trying to change the conflict — you need to be contemplative. Or it could be swimming or running or doing photography.… When kids see there is hope, they see that gang life is suicide.

Q: How do you expand hope?

I love the rituals of religion. I have a certain ritual I follow when going to the museum. We go to the RISD Museum with the kids to expand their imagination, where they see the beauty of what we can produce. RISD is a teaching museum and exhibits classic teaching in that it shows how people have lived.

Q: What captivates them at the RISD Museum?

A: One is the mummy room. That is quite mind blowing to them, that is one of the big hits. The young Cambodians find the Buddha even more mind blowing.

Q: Many young people in your program have apparently faced violence. Is there an underlying anger and how do you deal with it?

A: Yes, plenty have anger and trauma mixed. But there is a variety of things that help — a finding of a purpose, something to wake up for. Jobs are important. We need to keep pushing society for employment. Self-esteem goes if we don’t have a check at the end of the week. Purpose and dignity are gone. Having a job is part of spirituality and pay for work is a token of gratitude.

Q: How do you foster the spirit of forgiveness?

A: Forgiveness is part of the journey where nonviolence starts. We look at documentaries about forgiveness. Then they take ownership for what they have done. They confront what was done to others. Also we are engaged and we are tolerant of failure. It takes six tries and failures to get out of gang violence. We tell them you might fail a few times because of willpower, but when we fall back — like with a diet — we start again.

Q: How do you feel that nonviolence can be curbed from the perspective of a national mind set?

A: I trust patience. You can’t push it in a timeframe. Also at some point you have to humanize the enemy. The pain their mother’s might have felt when they lost a child is the same pain a gang mother feels when she loses a child.

Q: What is your dream come true for the young people in your program?

A: I want young people to be open to the beauty of life that comes with skills. It saddens me we incarcerate so many; it is a destroyer of lives. And I wish for society to see their lives as being worth as much as ours. It can be an education. If we see that everyone has the same value, violence would be dismantled.

One example of the institute’s work:

It was noted in their recent February report that at one school to encourage participation among kids who listened but did not give answers, the ISPN AmeriCorps team created their own version of the “I Am” poem.

Gross noted in the report, “Once they had completed it, they all wanted to stand up in front of the class and share their poem.… Some spoke about their cousins getting shot. Others spoke about how bullying had affected them. Twenty-six poems were read and it was like experiencing 26 lifetimes of happiness, fear, loss, everything.”

Their website is

Rita Watson, MPH, writes on spirituality and health for the Journal’s Thrive section.

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