SENIORS GREET ULSTER VISITORS: Emma, an Ulster Project participant from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, talks with Retired and Senior Volunteer Program member Billy Law during an Ulster visit with the members of RSVP on Wednesday at First Christian Church in Madison. The Ulster Project brings Catholic and Protestant youth from Northern Ireland to American cities for a month to stay with Protestant and Catholic families to promote peace and cultural understanding. The Ulster and aRSVP members worked together, creating quilt squares for a wall hanging that will be sold on Saturday during the Ulster Project Dinner Auction. The Ulster Project does not allow the participants’ last names to be used. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
SENIORS GREET ULSTER VISITORS: Emma, an Ulster Project participant from Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, talks with Retired and Senior Volunteer Program member Billy Law during an Ulster visit with the members of RSVP on Wednesday at First Christian Church in Madison. The Ulster Project brings Catholic and Protestant youth from Northern Ireland to American cities for a month to stay with Protestant and Catholic families to promote peace and cultural understanding. The Ulster and aRSVP members worked together, creating quilt squares for a wall hanging that will be sold on Saturday during the Ulster Project Dinner Auction. The Ulster Project does not allow the participants’ last names to be used. (Staff photos by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
While her older brother completes the last leg of a trip to Ireland, Gillian Watkins of Madison, sat Wednesday among 12 new friends from Northern Ireland at Madison First Christian Church.

The group made quilt squares with RSVP memers to be sold at a dinner and auction Saturday as part of this year's Ulster Project.

The mission of the Ulster Project is to promote religious tolerance and acceptance and conflict resolution. The project began in 1975 during a time of violence between Protestant and Catholic groups in Northern Ireland.

During the monthlong project, 12 Northern Ireland teens are paired with 12 Madison teens. The Northern Ireland teenagers are from the town of Enniskillen, which is slightly larger than Madison.

The group of 24 is spending the month attending multi-denominational religious services, performing service projects and participating in peace education called "Time of Discovery."

Madison has participated since 1998, and is one of 13 host cities in the United States.

Watkins, 16, said she chatted with her partner on Facebook and Skype before the two officially met face-to-face. Like Watkins, her new house guest is also an aspiring veterinarian.

"We immediately started building bonds," she said.

James McMcLoughin, coordinator for the Ulster Project and former participant, said he sees the teens become more self-confident as they focus on team building throughout the program.

Watkins agrees, and adds that it teaches empathy as well.

"We learn how to accept other people's thoughts and religion and how to deal with hurt in our lives," she said.

The project will wrap up in just over a week, and Watkins said she is hopeful she can have her own trip abroad next year.

"I'm already saving up money," she said.