ULSTER PROJECT Making friends, peace

The Ulster teens will take lessons of tolerance back home.
BOARDMAN -- Many teens who travel abroad wind up learning about people from a foreign country. For Ross McCartney, the people he's learning the most about are from his own hometown.
Ross and 11 of his peers from Belfast, Northern Ireland, are here, not just for vacation, but to gain a better cultural understanding of one another through the Ulster Project.
Hosting Irish teens in the Mahoning Valley for the past 15 years, the project aims to promote peace and tolerance among Roman Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
The group spent Monday afternoon at Westminster Church in Boardman practicing for a talent show -- one of the many activities the 12 teens, a mixture of both faiths, participate in during their monthlong stay.
Fifteen-year-old Ross, said he took part in the Ulster Project because he wanted to help diminish some of the bias between the two faiths.
"I've made great friends with Catholics and Protestants, and there's no problems," said Ross. "We're all together, and we've got along really well together."
Ross added some Americans have misconceptions about Northern Ireland. "I think they thought the violence was all over. It is in some parts, but it's mainly kept in larger states," Ross explained. "The media over there tries to make it sound worse than it is."
Julia James, also 15, learned about the Ulster Project from a friend who participated last summer. Julia said the experience has helped her accept people for who they are.
"I think it will help me in the future not to be scared to meet new people even though they come from different backgrounds," said Julia.
"I think it's interesting that everyone says Irish Catholic and Protestant kids would have a big problem getting along," said Bob Shuttleworth, an American counselor with the project.
"I can't tell who's Protestant and who's Catholic. I know there's six and six, but I couldn't break it down for you."
The Irish teens are not the only ones who benefit from the experience. They are paired with an American teen in their host families.
"It's not only helping the Irish kids get along, but its also helping the American kids to develop, to grow and to mature," said Shuttleworth, a Canfield resident.
Learning about Ireland
Fifteen-year-old Carly Danko, also of Canfield, said she's learned a lot about Ireland by being Julia James' host sister.
"We get along well," said Carly. "When you spend everyday throughout the whole month with someone, you become really close with them, and now there's only one week left."
Though his time here has been fun, Ross looks forward to seeing his family and friends back home soon. He wants to tell them about his experiences here with his newfound friends -- Catholic and Protestant.
Shuttleworth thinks the positive effects of the program are strong and far-reaching.
"I think its kind of like you're planting seeds," he said. "Every year you're adding more seeds to the field, you're watering them and they're growing."

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