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Organizers put stock into local organizations embracing new civility project

Jacob Kutz, student council president at Ridgewater College in Willmar, addresses an audience Wednesday during the Speak your Peace program at the Willmar Conference Center. Tribune photo by Bill Zimmer

WILLMAR -- Willmar Junior High School students are learning about the nine principles of civility that a local group hopes adults adopt.

The nine principles -- also known as tools -- of civility are being promoted by the Speak Your Peace Civility Project.

"At Willmar Junior High School, we have taught and are teaching character education for many years,'' said social worker Annette Tiffany.

"And this is the first time that we have had the adults ... and the leaders in our community be the ones to step up and talk about respect and responsibility and civility. We appreciate it coming from the adults in the community and not always from us,'' she said.

"They are familiar with words like cooperation and being able to solve conflicts agreeably. But this will just add another dimension to what we're doing. This will be the next character education piece of that,'' she said.

Tiffany and communications teacher Sara Rucker accompanied 25 students who presented a skit Wednesday about the nine tools to about 190 adults interested in or wanting more information about the Speak Your Peace Project being organized in Willmar.

Some Willmar residents became interested last year in promoting the project and are urging the Willmar City Council and other governing boards, as well as organizations and individuals in Kandiyohi County, to adopt the principles.

Willmar's project is modeled after the Speak Your Peace Civility Project started in the Duluth-Superior area in 2003. The project aimed to return civility to the Duluth City Council, which was torn by several controversial issues, and to encourage the next generation of leaders.

Duluth-Superior's experience with the Civility Project was discussed at the Willmar Conference Center by Holly Sampson, president of the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation, and Fariba Pendleton, community development educator with the University of Wisconsin Extension service.

They said the project reminds and encourages citizens to communicate in a more respectful and effective way by following some basic civility rules.

Pendleton said the project distributed more than 10,000 pieces of promotional information such as posters, wallet-sized cards and public service announcements. She said nine governing boards voted to recite the civility pledge. Also, the program is being taught in the Duluth Public Schools.

Pendleton proudly said there's been a big change on the Duluth City Council. She said council members respectfully call on others if they break the rules.

During a question-and-answer session, Willmar City Council member Doug Reese said some members have asked why they should recite the pledge.

Pendleton suggested the pledge be placed on the agenda for a while. At some point, she said, it may not be needed.

"You don't have to do that at every meeting, but maybe it's necessary at the beginning, especially if you have one or two people who are resistant to change,'' she said.

Pendleton said she uses the civility tools in her personal relationships.

"You have a great community. What a nice way if all of us leave the room to say I make that commitment today to go by these nine ... You'll actually be a happy person. You will be happier,'' she said.

The Student Senate on the Willmar campus of Ridgewater College has adopted the project's tools, said Jacob Kutz, Senate president. The Senate recommends use of more than $600,000 in student fees to college President Dr. Doug Allen.

"We as members of the Student Senate are all for this for the same cause, to improve the interests of our students and make the school a better place to learn, play and work in,'' he said.

The Rev. Naomi Mahler, a project committee member, said she hopes organizations will discuss the project "and agree to abide these.''

Gary Geiger, another organizer, said information and posters are available at the project's Web site. He hopes organizations will register their support on the Web site.

"We're hoping organizations and groups take it on their own and adopt it,'' he said.

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