Awaken Pittsburgh is a secular organization that draws upon the wisdom of Buddhist principles to serve a broad public. Founded in 2015 by Stephanie Romero, an educator and Buddhist practitioner, Awaken’s formation was largely precipitated by two events. The first “event” was learning from Archarya Adam Lobel (a teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition) in 2014 that he and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche (current lineage holder of the Shambhala tradition) had participated in a peace conference in Chicago that brought together people working to prevent youth/gang violence in the inner city. At the conference, the Sakyong taught mindfulness and meditative practices to teenage gang members to help prevent violence and extract them from lives of violence.
The news that people were using mindfulness with at-risk youth had a profound impact on Romero who, at the time, was developing a dissertation proposal in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. It affirmed the importance of incorporating her own personal practice of mindfulness into her professional life as a teacher, a colleague, and an educator and caused her to revise her dissertation to focus on the topic of mindfulness in education.
The second event that inspired the founding of Awaken Pittsburgh grew out of a 3-day conference Romero attended in May 2014 entitled “Being Brave: Is Enlightened Society Possible?” At the conference, led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche and Pema Chodron (an American Buddhist nun and author of numerous books on Buddhism), participants were divided into “affinity groups” based on areas of interests and, afterwards, were challenged to start affinity groups through their local Shambhala Centers. Romero, a member of the conference’s education group, got support from Acharya Adam Lobel, and other leaders at the Pittsburgh Shambhala Center (http://pittsburgh.shambhala.org/), to start an affinity group for educators. Thus, We-PEACE (Western Pennsylvania Educators for Awareness, Compassion and Empathy) was born in July of 2014.
In conjunction with fellow educator and Shambhala practitioner, Michelle King, We- PEACE began hosting monthly meetings in September 2014, inviting interested educators, administrators, and support staff to bring the transformational power of mindfulness to education systems in Western Pennsylvania. The meetings provide a chance for personal practice, sharing of ideas and resources, support and renewal. Check http://pittsburgh.shambhala.org/ongoing-offerings/we-peace/ for details and programming.
We-PEACE is establishing a network of people working together to build enlightened educational institutions while providing an opportunity for personal practice, professional support, renewal, and the sharing of ideas and resources. In May 16, 2015 We-PEACE held a day of practice for educators with 26 participants. In 2016 We-PEACE and the University of Pittsburgh Center for Mindfulness and Consciousness Studies brought Christa Turksma of CARE for Teachers to train local educators.