Mt. Lebanon man’s foundation fosters peace

Published Sep 11, 2013 at 10:21 am (Updated Sep 11, 2013 at 10:21 am)

Fostering peace among children is a main goal of the Global Peace Building Foundation (GPBF). Tom Etzel of Mt. Lebanon started the organization to “advocate peace building” after the Sept. 11 tragedy struck him personally. Etzel lost not only his niece, Katie McCloskey, but his high school friend, Ken Waldie, in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

McCloskey, 25, was working on the 97th floor of the World Trade Center that day when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower. A Bethel Park graduate, Waldie was aboard that jet.

According to Etzel and his wife, Phyllis, McCloskey always wanted to live in New York City. In fact, the South Bend, Ind., resident had just started her job two months prior to the attacks. She worked three-days-a-week at the World Trade Center.

“She was a great gal and got to live her dream,” Mrs. Etzel said.

After the tragedy, Etzel said he wanted to do something to help spread peace throughout the world. In 2006, he had his “Ah ha” moment to start a foundation after attending a graduation ceremony where the speaker talked about global peace.

In 2009, Etzel enrolled in a mid-career master’s program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. During the one-year program, Etzel became close with his classmates, many of whom were from all over the world. Some are members of the GPBF’s advisory board. The foundation also has a Pittsburgh-based board of directors.

While at school, Etzel said he “came up with a vision of what to do.” That was to create a grass-roots organization geared toward peace. After completing the Tufts’ program in July, Etzel officially incorporated the foundation on Sept. 11, 2010.

Centered on youth and children, the foundation cultivates global peace through dialogue, sports and the arts. This in turn can provide unity, compassion and understanding.

Tom Etzel said GPBF acts as an intermediary between donors and a recipient peace-building organization. He added GPBF researches the organizations with which it partners. In the past three years, the foundation has been “very deliberate in developing infrastructure, mission and core values,” he said. Etzel is focused on establishing the integrity of the foundation and staying within a selective scope to “make sure the organizations we partner with are legitimate.”

This summer, the Etzels travelled to Northern Ireland with GPBF. The foundation partners with Peace Players International. That organization uses basketball to bring together children and teach them to learn to get along. According to its official website, Peace Players International was founded in 2001 on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.”

Tom Etzel said in Northern Ireland more than 90 percent of schools are still segregated between the Catholic and Protestant population, and students “never get to know the other side.” Peace Players works with 22 schools in Belfast to bring together students.

The children get to know each other through the sport and it opens up a conversation between both sides. “Dialogue is important,” Etzel stressed. GPBF also works with Seeds of Peace. The organization focuses on inspiring and equipping new generations of leaders from regions of conflict with the relationships and skills needed to advance lasting peace. Seeds of Peace holds an annual summer camp in Maine where youth from historically conflicted countries are brought together.

Although the camp is for young people, Etzel said it also fosters a dialogue between the adults that are from different parts of the world.

In the future GPBF hopes to partner with area colleges and universities to get new ideas. Etzel envisions growth for the next five to 10 years. “We want to build our organization so it’s a prominent foundation in the global peace building community.” The hope is that other peace-building organizations partner with GPBF and spread the message of peace.

“We want to cover the world,” Tom Etzel said.

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