Pushing for Peace

Kelly and James Hallman

Kelly and James Hallman

Q&A with Kelly and James Hallman

By Mimi Ko Cruz

Kelly Thornton Hallman founded the Living Peace Foundation in 2010 to “create opportunities for people to explore their purpose, discover their gifts, and share them with the world.”

She serves as the foundation’s board chairwoman and her husband, James Hallman, serves as president. Together, the philanthropists propel the foundation’s mission: “In partnership with innovative thinkers and doers, we support evidence-based curricula, cutting-edge research, and transformative practicum focused on the embodied experience of inner peace and its impact on the world. We believe that a culture of living peace is possible when each of us upholds the values of collaboration, compassion, courage, and creativity. We are inspired by leaders who make good happen by using their power to spark joyful, peaceful, and compassionate change.”

To that end, the Hallmans teamed up with the leaders of the School of Social Ecology and have become the biggest supporters of the school’s compassion curriculum and Global Service Scholars program, which sends students abroad to work in areas such as  sustainability, poverty alleviation and justice.

Q: How did you become involved with the School of Social Ecology?

James: Kelly’s vision was always: teach kids to love themselves and, then, go change the world. Kelly’s been working toward curriculum, wanting a compassion course. I’ve always had a dream about how positive it would be for students to take three to six months of their life between the ages of 18 and 22 and give back, joining something like the Peace Corps. Why not create an opportunity for kids to give back? When we met Dean Nancy Guerra about three years ago, I asked, “how can we build a program in which we can combine the two ideas.” Nancy made it happen at UCI.

Q: Why is a compassion education so important to you?

Kelly: When I first started the foundation nine years ago, I went to a business consultant. She asked me, “if you had a magic wand, how would you change the world?” I said I’d start with children and help them remember how special they are and give them opportunities to share their gifts with others. For me, the idea for the Center for Living Peace came from being a mom and watching my kids as they grew. Raising them in Orange County, I saw so much wealth and so much need, and thought, how can we help balance this disparity? I was raised with farm fields in my backyard and Orange County was very foreign to me. I wanted to give my children a little more balance. When we first opened the center across the street from UCI, our headquarters for about six years, we had the Center for Living Peace sign above the door. People would come in and say, “wow, it’s so nice to come into a place where peace is above the door” and, the most frequent comment I heard, which has become more frequent: “we need more of this.” The need for more peace and compassion in our world has only increased.

Q: You’ve supported the School of Social Ecology’s compassion initiative, which includes the course on the science and practice of compassion and the Global Service Scholars program from the beginning. Why?

Kelly: Our foundation board made a conscious decision to support people who are doing good work and we feel like Richard Matthew, the faculty director of the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, and Nancy Guerra are really wonderful people doing great work, advancing the compassion initiative.

James: This program has been a creative collaboration around compassion for self and others. Our inspiring leaders at UCI have made it possible to incubate a sustainable model that could be repeated globally. It’s definitely needed.

Q: How does compassion benefit people?

Kelly: I think of it as empowering, just reminding people that they have this inherent power and strength and there are tools they can use to slow down and highlight their gifts. There’s so much pressure on children today, between social media, school performance and getting into the “right” schools. How can we slow that down and give kids the tools to just to be who they are and not have to compete? I believe it’s through compassion education.

James: One scholar, who had been a foster child in many different homes recently returned from his Global Service Scholar trip to Nepal. Within days of the four-week program, he observed families all working together in the community with one common goal — to take care of everybody in the community. He said you couldn’t tell which kids belonged to which parents. They all were one. Coming from a broken family, he thought, “wow, this is beautiful.” No cell phones, no technology, just simple loving kindness for one another. The scholars came back feeling grateful for the education and opportunities they have here in America. Many of the students come back stating that they are changed forever. And, that’s the goal. One kid at a time. One person at a time.

Q: What does compassion mean to you?

James: Compassion means the ability to first feel empathy for others. But, it’s a little bit more than that. It’s also having the motivation to help and want to elevate others.

Kelly: I think of compassion as a synonym for empowerment, love, and goodness in the world. For both of us, it’s an honor to be in a position where we can give back and help others give back. It’s a ripple effect. We were both raised in families that didn’t have a whole lot but they still gave back. My dad worked in construction. He was president of the Kiwanis Club and he organized the Thanksgiving baskets, the Easter egg hunts for kids and the Christmas drives for our small town. My grandmother placed foster children and my aunts were all teachers and nurses. Sharing our gifts with others was just a part of life. So, naturally, that’s what I wanted to create for kids, too.

Q: Where do you see the compassion initiative and Global Service Scholars program in the future?

Kelly: The next step is to make it grow because it’s important to have reminders that we are all inherently good and we can all foster that goodness — one way is by giving back. In partnership with UCI, we can do even more.

James: We hope that other schools would adopt this model because it’s needed. Colleges want to teach math, science, history, etc., meanwhile kids are more stressed and depressed than ever. So, why not teach self love and compassion, setting kids up for their best  future. It would be helpful for all careers, whether a doctor, lawyer, teacher or engineer, to understand the roots of compassion and to study the basics of how to live a better life and then to make a better world.