The fourth episode of the Peacebuilder podcast features the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding’s (CJP) academic program coordinator, Janelle Myers-Benner, who has worked at CJP in various capacities for 20 years. Myers-Benner speaks of her formative experiences volunteering in Bolivia; the many programmatic shifts she’s helped usher through CJP; and memories of her second daughter, Nora, who died in 2008.
The podcast is just one of the ways the center is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. Hosted by CJP executive assistant and anniversary celebration committee chair Patience Kamau MA ‘17, the 10-episode series features faculty and staff members reflecting on the history of CJP and their own peacebuilding work. A new episode drops every other week on the Peacebuilder website.
As young adults, Myers-Benner and her husband, Jason, spent a year working at an orphanage in Bolivia. They returned to Harrisonburg “struggling with big, big questions, and [CJP] was a place where questions were welcome, and not only welcomed but engaged,” she says. Myers-Benner then got her first job with what was then called the Conflict Transformation Program in 1999 as a work study student.
“I cannot reflect on my 20 years at CJP without Nora coming prominently to mind,” Myers-Benner says. Nora, the Myers-Benners’ second daughter, was born in October 2007 with a rare genetic condition. Myers-Benner worked from home and hospital throughout Nora’s life and returned to the CJP office when Nora was about four or five months old, baby in tow.
She remembers the community rallying around her family during this time. In one story Myers-Benner recounts that Linda Swanson, a student at the time, “almost filled the CJP freezer with these big trays! I think she fed our family for a couple weeks … that was this abundance of generosity and this outpouring of love.” A CJP alumna, Ann McBroom, took Nora for long walks while Myers-Benner helped the program transition to EMU’s new database.
“Many of the people who come through our doors are just unforgettable people … the roots feel very deep, and the connections feel very deep,” Myers-Benner says.
Her hopes for CJP going forward are also focused on the people. In another 25 years, Myers-Benner says she hopes the school will further “center the leadership of indigenous people and people of color.”
“We need leaders who are creative, who can dream, who can hope, who can envision something different than what we currently have, who’ve shown the ability to rise above immense challenges.”