Spreading some peace around

IRVINE — It all started when someone asked Kelly Smith what she would do if she had a magic wand to change the world.

Her answer — to help kids learn and realize what's special about them — sparked a dream that blossomed into the Center for Living Peace in Irvine.

"I spent a lot of time as a young mother taking my kids to mommy-and-me classes in what I called the 'bubble' of Orange County," Smith said.

"I thought: What if we were having fun and learning about the world outside of our own bubbles at the same time? What if starting at a young age, kids were inspired and empowered with opportunities to share their gifts with others?"

The Center has partnered with UC Irvine to start the high-profile "Living Peace Series," which brought Charlize Theron and Sir Richard Branson to the university in recent months, and will bring the Dalai Lama to the Bren Events Center at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

In 2009, Smith, a Newport Beach resident, founded the Center with a simple idea: "Good happens."

It's her mantra and the central focus of the nonprofit, which sponsors everything from mommy-and-me yoga to craft classes. It opened its doors in May 2010.

Smith, 45, grew up in a small town in Delaware. After graduating from the University of Delaware, she moved to California, working in jobs ranging from assisting an insurance salesman to throwing out rotten cucumbers on an assembly line.

Tucked into Irvine's University Center, the Center for Living Peace is spa-like. The walls are a calming burnt orange, a large metallic bowl serves as a fish pond and plants fill the space. Guests may sip organic mint tea or browse a collection of inspiring books for kids and adults.

The center was founded on four pillars: inner work and development; peacemaking and communication; safeguarding the environment; and arts and culture. It has no religious or political affiliation, but it is a place where people are encouraged to cultivate both inner peace and good work in the community.

"People ask me what the Center for Living Peace is," said Smith, a divorcee with two teenage children. "But it's not a noun. It's actually about the verb: living peace. If you really come down to it, it's a space where unlimited potential is the goal."

The center has evolved beyond what Smith ever imagined.

"Our partnership with UCI has been incredibly wonderful," Smith said. "Several people from UCI visited during construction of the Center and they have been supportive ever since. The leadership there recognizes the importance of our mission and vision."

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak about the role of ethical leadership and personal responsibility.

Smith, who also sits on the Orange County Foundation board of directors, said she hopes visitors leave the event inspired to help be part of the ripple effect "to make good happen in their own lives, their families, their communities and this planet."

The Center for Living Peace will celebrate its first birthday May 14 with a full day of free classes.

For tickets to the Dalai Lama appearance or more information about the Center for Living Peace, visit goodhappens.org.

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