The town of Dunedin claimed the Florida orange as its symbol. Safety Harbor had the grapefruit. But when members of the Peace4Tarpon marketing team were trying to design a new poster, the group’s vice-chair, Mary Sharrow, suggested another image of native flora: the red mangrove.
Those trees, known officially as Rhizophora mangle and colloquially as “walking trees,” populate Tarpon’s shoreline. At first, marketing team members were unsure about using them as Peace4Tarpon’s symbol. Then Sharrow came back with a bundle of research.
“When I started reading about [the red mangrove], it blew me away,” she says. She learned that the trees rebuild shoreline, protect sea grasses and reefs and convert salt water to fresh water in their root systems. “The capacity of the mangrove to survive in the harshest of environments…these are work mules, giving you free carbon-scrubbing. The Smithsonian had a blurb: ‘The mangrove is a survivor.’ It resonated on so many levels.”
Peace4Tarpon’s strength, says Saenger, has always been its commitment to grass-roots engagement and organic growth. But a group powered largely by volunteers also must weather the ebb and surge of people’s availability and interest.
And yet, there are signs that the initiative is making a difference in this town of 23,000. In October, new mayor Chris Alahouzos signed the Peace4Tarpon memorandum of understanding, a commitment to attend the group’s monthly meetings, become more informed and practice “trauma sensitivity among my friends, family and co-workers.”
Peace4Tarpon leaders have connected not only with leaders in other MARC communities but also with those who have launched similar “Peace4” initiatives.
“Every week, there are more communities interested in this,” Saenger says. “I’d like to use that energy for people to be able to launch their own initiatives so we can influence policy and lawmakers.”
Robbin Sotelo Redd, Executive Director of the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority and the Local Community Housing Corporation and Vice-Chair of the Peace4Tarpon Board of Directors, likes to tell the story of the preemie hats. A retired woman in the community saw a poster in the library for Peace4Tarpon and began attending the group’s meetings. She realized that she had suffered trauma, beginning with her premature birth, and she wanted to heal that wound. So she knitted 64 preemie hats, one for each year of her life, and delivered them to the local hospital’s NICU.
“What’s unique about Peace4Tarpon is that people just step up and take ownership,” Redd said. “It’s an organic, grass roots group of people that is ever-growing.”
That group flourished from an unlikely seed—an artist-turned-public-official, former Vice Mayor Robin Saenger, who began exploring the impact of violence in people’s lives and ended up perusing the ACE Study.
The Health Federation of Philadelphia serves as a keystone supporting a network of Community Health Centers as well as the broader base of public and private-sector organizations that deliver health and human services to vulnerable populations.