Mattie J.T. Stepanek spent his last years living in King Farm in Rockville, writing poetry and challenging others with his message of peace.
That message was embraced Tuesday, when residents of Ingleside at King Farm, a continuing care senior living community, began the process of becoming the nation’s first large Peace Community, as certified by the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.
In 2012, the foundation launched the Peace Certification Program to help others work toward Mattie’s message of peace and hope.
Mattie was almost 14 when he died from complications of Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy, a rare neuromuscular disease.
During his 13 years, he wrote seven books, mostly poetry. His poems were “Heartsongs,” he said — “gifts that reflect each person’s unique reason for being.”
The Peace Certification Program of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation is new, said Jeni Stepanek, Mattie’s mother and executive director of the foundation.
“We have a handful of schools in the U.S. and Canada that are in the process of certification and a few families and businesses,” Jeni Stepanek said. “This is our first large community.”
The process awards the recipient a certification for completing a list of peace and community enhancement activities, from fundraising for local nonprofits to hosting discussions about peace in the world.
There are three components to Peace Certification according to the website www.mattieonline.com:
“REFLECT: You choose to become a Peace Seeker. We share materials with you that support you in exploring and reflecting on Mattie’s message of Heartsongs, hope, peace, and choice.
“RESPOND: You choose to become a Peace Maker. You shape that message and respond to it through your words and choices, as you create and carry out your own Peace Plan: (a Lesson, Activity, Attitude, and/or Action Plan).
“REACH OUT: You choose to become a Peace Bringer. Together, we show others your commitment to peace through our Peace Certification page with your Lesson, Activity, Attitude, or Action Peace Plan, and your ‘What Next?’ statement.”
Ingleside took on the peace certification at the urging of residents Bob and Laurin Balkam. Bob was a member of the board of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation and the couple were neighbors of the Stepaneks.
“I am a World War II vet. I was in Europe, so I know about conflict. I’m interested in peace,” Bob Balkam said. “Mattie’s message was so simple: for every person to come to peace within themselves and only then could you share peace.”
Balkam said he can see the 26-acre Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park from his Ingleside apartment window and was surprised to learn that many residents did not know about the park or Mattie. He told Ingleside’s director, Marilyn Leist, about the Peace Certification and worked to get the process started.
“We described it in the [internal] weekly newsletter and there were no objections. It’s pretty hard to be against peace,” he said.
Jeni Stepanek shared her son’s life, message and legacy with about 100 of Ingleside’s 375 residents Tuesday.
“In a nutshell,” she said, “his message was, hope is real, peace is possible and life is worthy.”
Sharon Ringe, an Ingleside resident, sat quietly reflecting after the meeting.
“I was delighted because I was following Mattie’s final years,” Ringe said. “I want to figure out how to bring this message to my church, Rockville United Church. A lot of what (Stepanek) said dovetailed with our congregation.”
Ingleside plans to have a picnic in mid-August, so residents can discuss how to move forward with the process of certification.