About Us

Julie Penshorn and Rebecca Janke, co-directors Growing Communities for Peace are experiential teachers

Smart Tools for Life Project Director, Julie Penshorn, and Vice-President of Growing Communities for Peace, Rebecca Janke

 Published Works by Penshorn and Janke

  • The Compassionate Rebel: Energized by Anger, Motivated by Love, published by Growing Communities for Peace, 2002.
  • “Peacemaker’s News” A monthly newsletter for Growing Communities for Peace 1993-1996
  • Expanding the Circle: Teen Mentor Service Project Adult Facilitator Manual, 2000
  • 4-H Meeting Handbook, a collaborative effort with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Washington County, published by the University of Minnesota Extension, 2001
  • Peacemaker's A, B, Cs for Young Children: A guide for teaching conflict resolution with a peace table, published by Growing Communities for Peace, 1995

Message from the Director of Smart Tools for Life, Julie Penshorn, MBC

Children are born into the light. As they grow up, some are wounded, traumatized, and hardened, until they are mired in the darkness of anger, loneliness, depression, and hatred. My hope is that I can contribute something valuable to the lives of young children through storybooks that inspire and provide tools for their healthy development. Children’s ability to learn suffers when their basic needs are not met. A key need is a sense of belonging in a safe community. It is only when children learn to STOP and breathe rather than act out in anger or frustration, and they can express their feelings, that all members of these communities thrive. My books provide tools for living in harmony with others, and the Earth, so children can be happier and healthier, and grow up to be the creative, insightful, resilient, and thoughtful citizens and leaders our society and communities need.


Smart Tools for Life logoSmart Tools for Life

is a project of Growing Communities for Peace. It serves parents and educators by combining excellence in pedagogy with story-telling and children’s music, making it easy and engaging to bring state-of-the-art peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding skills to young children, thereby encouraging more harmonious, sustainable relationships with others and the planet.

Our materials are designed to soothe the wounded, support the curious, and guide the troubled to peace using entertaining books and music that engage and empower all those involved to strengthen families, classrooms, and neighborhoods.

We recognize it's not just what we teach that matters, but how we teach. Children don’t care how much we know, they want to know how much we care. Therefore, our professionally designed and published children’s books are moving and educational, prompting children to reach into their hearts as well as their minds. Our blog posts intellectually stimulate and increase the skills of the parents and teachers in such a way that children can see they care.

Service Learning

Through our books, service learning opportunities arise, since they all have a Mentor Guide included. Mentors can be adults, teens, or even older children.


Getting an early start

The primary focus of Smart Tools for Life is writing young children's stories and creating music for kids, through the inspiration of advanced peace education topics usually reserved for adults. This allows children to get an early start when these concepts and ways of thinking can become part of who they are. In addition, the blog on this site provides material focused on parenting and teaching to support the children's materials. 

Weaving the Threads Together

A peace educator in her 30s, Julie left Growing Communities for Peace for many years to focus on her horse business at Sunborn Stables. She now has achieved her Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals through the United States Dressage Federation and become a Certified Instructor and Trainer.

Working primarily with girls and women, issues of past violence in their lives continually emerged. Her job was training them to overcome their fear of large animals as one of the first steps in moving beyond victimization. Many problems that leaders face are huge. Riding helps girls and women to have a history of responding to large challenges.

“Working with horses is entirely about leadership. Without an assertive leader, the horse most often follows his or her own desires -- which can be dangerous! Riders learn the physical skills to manage their body in order to communicate their own version of speaking truth to power,” Julie said.

Always a writer and a singer/songwriter, Julie was excited to begin again with Rebecca and to immerse herself in something for her “mature” years!

Rebecca Janke, M.Ed.

Rebecca kept the fires burning at Growing Communities for Peace during the years without Julie. She continued to broaden people's understanding of developing a culture of peace in the community as the President of the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers, (MAP), serving as an artist-in-resident in schools, providing in-service teacher trainings locally and nationally, writing as an international columnist on peace education, and working with the Human Rights and Peace Online Bookstore with Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, a co-director of the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota.

Much of her time was devoted to bringing quality peace education material to educators and social workers at their professional development annual or national conferences. Her awareness of newly published material allows her to find the perfect match between a current need or goal of an individual professional who is looking for something that "works on the ground" or addresses a current struggle in their family or personal life. Rebecca will soon be announcing a new website for peace education materials. 

Rebecca’s important role as President of MAP

One very significant achievement happened when she was the President of MAP and the National Republican Convention was held in her region, in 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to threats of hostile political protest, she guided the organization to constructive action. Through dialogue, they decided to provide a training by Father Peter from Michigan to train a group of nonviolent protectors who would act as a buffer zone between protestors and police. The Chief of Police responded to their invitation to discuss ways nonviolent tactics could be used as well. The convention took place without large acts of violence.

As Elders

Now elders, Julie and Rebecca believe it is time to circle back, bringing their well-honed, diverse skills, insights, and connections with other thought leaders, to children. Their unusual talent of bringing this kind of information to young children makes it possible for parents and children to understand how to contribute to a growing culture of peace and feel they are part of a breakthrough that is catching on in the hearts and minds of people worldwide.

Through their work, they have witnessed, as Maria Montessori did, that children are naturally responsive to creating a culture of peace and have much to contribute as well. It's up to us to provide the kind of environment for their natural tendencies to unfold and give them many years to practice just like we do with math, reading, and writing.

Jorry Keith, Illustrator

Jorry Keith is a storyboard artist, illustrator, and instructor. She is the writer and the illustrator of the comic book, Seafoam: A Friend for Madison. A strong believer in the arts, and its importance in children's lives, Jorry runs several community-based art classes that guide children through the process of writing and drawing their own comics and books.

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