Getting to ‘Thank You’

Rewiring our Apologies…and Our Brains
by Chris Fitz

We were getting to end of dialogue. The woman who’d been robbed expressed her grace, that she didn’t hold this against the boy in front of her—or his mom. He was 15, with older friends, saw her get out of her car, waited, then jump into it, grabbing her belongings and ran.

Months later, they’re in the same room talking. He’s apologized. He thought she’d ream him out. Instead he’s experiencing her grace. “Every day, my family reminds me of this one thing I did. Now here you are, not judging me. I don’t know what to say.” He stops, as if paralyzed by a cocktail of overwhelming emotions, self-doubt and love.

There’s a pregnant pause. As if holding the hand of a young child, I quietly ask him. “What do you say to someone who is offering you this gift of forgiveness?”

Getting to Yes book cover

In their 1981 seminal best-seller Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury outlined key principles for better negotiation. They suggest people can better get what they want through a dialogue based on deeper interests rather than demands. The principles have endured, but nearly forty years later, we are still learning.

Trauma-informed research is showing how fundamental emotional growth and psychological development are to our well-being, our ability to function as rational adults. Fisher and Ury’s thesis relies on a high-functioning rationalism, a resilient emotional state in which people can feel safe and see a situation with increasing clarity. After the landmark ACES Study by Kaiser Permanente, it’s now clear that a huge portion of the US, especially those living in poverty, people of color and other marginalized groups, can’t as easily get to “yes.” More than 1 in 5 of our neighbors go about their day-to-day in a state of threat, with reduced physical and mental health capacities over the long-term.

In traditional thinking about restorative justice, like the conversation between our youth and the woman he robbed, the goal is an apology. Saying “sorry” makes everything better, right? But try this experiment: think of three situations where someone apologized to you. What did you feel? What did you say?

Over and over in restorative dialogue—and everyday life around me—I see people responding to “I’m sorry” with “it’s no problem.” No problem? Why? Because it’s emotionally burdensome to receive an apology. My experience is that a victim actually feels worse during the apology phase of a dialogue, not better. To ease our own burden (and feeling bad for them), we often minimize an offender’s actions.

“Thank you.”

That’s what the youth said to the woman he robbed. “Thank you for seeing me and not judging me.” With that, the conversation changed completely. No longer lost in childish self-pity, he was finding his own words, his own power, his own clear view of the woman who met him half-way. And in that moment, the victim was also being seen, recognized, appreciated, perhaps de-victimized. The conversation quickly shifted to making things right, creating an agreement, and “yes” came quickly.

At Advoz, we’ve heard incredibly positive feedback on “getting to thank you.” In a recent restorative dialogue, a remorseful but threatened offender was asked “what he appreciated” and began recognizing the value of others in the room – and not dwelling on his negative self-worth. It also gave victims more closure to focus on what they were thankful for, rather than the harm done. We’ve gone so far as to amend our Apology Letter Handout for court-referred offenders to include getting to ‘thank you.’

Neuroscience suggests that getting to ‘thank you’ is rewiring our brains to actually release trauma and build resilience. It doesn’t negate the need for an apology, but builds on it, taking the right kind of responsibility, and shifting apology to empowerment. Because with empowerment, “yes” is an easy step to take.

Anatomy of a transformative “Thank You”*

Try these “thank you’s” at home or work with a spouse, family member, child or friend, and let us know the results in the comment section below.

<What you did> made me feel <this way>.”

“You showing up today made me feel hopeful.”

“Your choice of words was careful and made me feel respected.”

“Just bringing up this difficult topic makes me feel uncomfortable but also hopeful that we can work it out.”

* Adapted from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolence Communication.

Chris Fitz Advoz Director of Strategic Initiatives

Chris Fitz is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Advoz


Advoz Release On Racism And Dialogue

The violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other people of color, are tragic, unnecessary and unjust. In acknowledging that we all play a role consciously or subconsciously in the reality of our current position as a community and a nation, we vow to be open to true listening and learning. 

The mission of Advoz is to help people add their voice and listen in situations of conflict. This situation begs for many voices.  Advoz equips our community to constructively handle conflicts, violence and crime. Advoz enhances communication, accountability and mindfulness, empowering parties in a conflict or crime, even offenders and victims, to mend broken relationships, find resolution, and build stronger, safer communities. 

Advoz will continue to reach out to local community partners to listen, to learn and to lend services for diverse parties to add their voice and not only express their concerns but also to hear the concerns of others.  
This is a listening and learning journey in which we, as mediators, facilitators and coordinators of conflict resolution and restorative justice, need to seriously engage. The following steps are just one of many steps we will be taking in the coming weeks and months. 

Advoz will examine our own level of diversity, including with our Board, our staff, our mediators, and our facilitators. We will also review our own policies, processes and programs to identify those areas that can improve how we serve the African American community and all persons of color.   

When we take the time to actively listen and learn from others, we discover and value their life, their upbringing, their fears and their joys. The journey of learning about someone else’s world is an important process that takes time and commitment. This is a listening and learning journey in which we, as mediators, facilitators and coordinators of conflict resolution and restorative justice, need to seriously engage. 

Extend Advoz’s work by having conversations of your own, with your neighbor, your family, your colleagues. Listen to their feelings and their stories. Position yourself as a listener first, a facilitator second and a fellow storyteller third. Notice what comes up for you—and for your relationship. Click here for a brief conversation guide.


Resources for Conversations about Racism

By Chris Fitz

Racism is a loaded word. In Advoz’s dialogue work, mediators often first ask, “how do you feel?” Then we ask, “what do you think?” So I’ll ask you, reader, “what comes up for you when you hear the word ‘racism?'”

The volatility and lopsided experience of racism in America is a big reason why “neutrality” and a purely rational discourse is impossible. Unpacking this volatility, it’s history, the emotional experiences we’ve growing up, our different media perspectives, conversations, social media feeds, diversity trainings, poignant encounters, traumatic memories, careless jokes…the list goes on. These are all fuel for a very charged conversation. Everyone–those in our mainstream race culture or marginalized race cultures–has a story to tell. In most conversations we have about racism, we are not going to “mediate an agreement,” but we can facilitate understanding. So we move out of a position of “neutrality” into a concept often called “multipartiality.” And while telling our diverse stories can bring us to common understanding, the stories are not the same.

To start a conversation about race, it’s helpful to understand, especially from a majority-culture (White) perspective, that we don’t have the same stories. We need to listen for difference to understand it. The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others in 2020 show us that African Americans and other people of color are still experiencing a kind of violence–backed by the authority of the police–largely unknown among most white people. This video about the difference between “equality” and “equity” helps to explain how our stories are not equivocal.

Equitable dialogue means making space for very different stories, different tellers, different experiences, a different “shoe” so to speak.

The volatility and lopsidedness of racism in America is also what makes it so powerful and important to have good dialogue with others. The emotional weight of racism is a huge burden, and sharing our stories in constructive ways helps us share that burden. (Though we–especially White people–want to be careful of unloading our burden and guilt on others too.)

The following is brief “field guide” to support you having a one-on-one conversation with a friend, neighbor, family member or colleague. A big shout out to Dr. Amanda Kemp, Advoz’s 2018 Dignity in Dialogue awardee, for some of the inspiration for this mindful “leaning in” approach to deep dialogue:

Start as the Listener

Who is this person before me? What are my assumptions, even subtle biases about them? Can I put them aside to hear this person?

What am I curious about? What is the story behind this situation? What was this person’s experience of racism as a child?

What can I learn here? Not to use as a weapon against them, but to enlighten myself?

Can I continue to put my own opinions, biases and stories aside for now?

When I notice that I am repeatedly not able to listen, I need to make that clear politely before I am totally impatient and irritable.

Become a Facilitator

Side By Side Sunset

It helps me to think about this phase as “walking beside” someone processing their stuff. Here are some of the questions I’m asking:

Are there open-ended questions that that I could offer to help us both understand the issues and stories we’re processing?

What is this person feeling? Can I reflect that and honor that in my own words? Can I recognize their own feelings with a word they’ve used, especially one they’ve used repeatedly?

Is there a story that this person needs to process?

Can I summarize what I hear them saying?

Can I name what I hear is important for this person?

Can I affirm the value that this person has? And the values that this person holds dear?

Can I ask for the opportunity, the permission to tell my own story?

Inhabit the Storyteller

To be deeply present to a conversation, and to be heard, it’s helpful to find and tell my own story. This is different from my opinion on “issues.” My story is always true–for me. Your listener cannot deny its validity for you.

Is there a story, a moment in my own life that’s coming up for me?

Can I ask for the space to tell it?

How did it begin? What was the setting? Who was involved?

What was the key crisis moment?

How were affected, changed by that moment? What did you learn that you could or couldn’t do, say or couldn’t say?

How does this story impact your view of racism beyond your own experience?

End Well

What are the themes you hear that we share in this conversation?

What do you appreciate that you heard?

Can you appreciate the continued tension as well as the connection you experienced?

How would you like to follow up this conversation?

What are you motivated to do now?

Check out Amanda Kemp’s TedX Talk as she walks through some examples of conversations like this, mindfully and purposefully.

For more practical resources on racism and police violence, click here.

And let us know how these conversations are going!

Chris Fitz is director of strategic initiatives at Lancaster-based Advoz: Mediation & Restorative Practices, created from the merger of Conflict Resolution Services and the Center for Community Peacemaking.


Adding Voices, Processing Racism

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other people of color, are tragic, unnecessary and unjust. In acknowledging that we all play a role consciously or subconsciously in the reality of our current position as a community and a nation, we vow to be open to true listening and learning. 

The mission of Advoz is to help people add their voice and listen in situations of conflict. This situation begs for many voices.  Advoz equips our community to constructively handle conflicts, violence and crime.

Advoz enhances communication, accountability and mindfulness, empowering parties in a conflict or crime, even offenders and victims, to mend broken relationships, find resolution, and build stronger, safer communities. 

Advoz will continue to reach out to local community partners to listen, to learn and to lend services for diverse parties to add their voice and not only express their concerns but also to hear the concerns of others.  

This is a listening and learning journey in which we, as mediators, facilitators and coordinators of conflict resolution and restorative justice, need to seriously engage. The following steps are just one of many steps we will be taking in the coming weeks and months. 

Advoz will examine our own level of diversity, including with our Board, our staff, our mediators, and our facilitators. We will also review our own policies, processes and programs to identify those areas that can improve how we serve the African American community and all persons of color.

When we take the time to actively listen and learn from others, we discover and value their life, their upbringing, their fears and their joys. The journey of learning about someone else’s world is an important process that takes time and commitment. 

Advoz invites our community to take the following steps with us:

Conversation

Extend Advoz’s work by having conversations of your own, with your neighbor, your family, your colleagues. Listen to their feelings and their stories. Position yourself as a listener first, a facilitator second and a fellow storyteller third. Notice what comes up for you—and for your relationship. Click here for a brief conversation guide.

Join the Circle

The next “Advoz Hour,” Monday, June 22nd at 1 pm, will be an opportunity to process “racism in our communities” through a virtual Circle Process. As a predominantly white organization, we have work to do, internally and externally. This is one step—and you can contribute while doing your own work. Click here to register.

Chris Wenden
Executive Director

Lucille Connors 
Board President


Chris Wenden Named New Executive Director

Written by the Advoz Board

Advoz welcomes a new Executive Director, Chris Wenden, to focus on program expansion and development throughout Lancaster County.

“To continue the mission and expand our work and role in the community, the Board of Directors has recruited Chris Wenden to lead the organization as Executive Director. In his role Chris will develop and execute a long-term strategy to meet the needs of our community in areas of restorative justice, mediation and training; by focusing on creating a safe environment and opportunity for all voices to be heard”, says Lucille Connors, Advoz Board President.

Advoz  has been serving Lancaster County Community in the areas of restorative justice and mediation for over forty years; two organizations, formerly the Lancaster Mediation Center and Center for Community Peacemaking/Lancaster Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (LAVORP), joined forces three years ago to direct and focus their resources to better serve the people in our community. Wenden says, “The key areas of restorative justice, especially with juvenile offenders and the range of mediation and conflict resolution services, are much needed programs in today’s world.”

Helping people, both victims and offenders, find closure is a rewarding and challenging task. Bringing the tools and opportunity for constructive dialog in disputes involving neighbors, business and schools brings us together as a community.

“I am excited to be serving with a large group of trained mediators and an enthusiastic and talented staff that are dedicated to seeing Lancaster County transformed from a place of conflict to a place of vibrance through face-to-face dialogue programs.”

Wenden has headed up other non-profits in Lancaster County but believes that the goals and mission of Advoz can have a uniquely positive impact on those we are privilege to serve.

For Media Inquiries, contact Advoz at 717-397-2404 or director@advoz.org.

Biography

Chris Wenden was originally born in Sydney Australia. He has headed up a number of non-profits in Lancaster County and will graduate with an MBA in Non-profit and Executive Leadership in May.

Chris is married to Michelle, who is a Lancaster County native, they have 2 children through adoption and have been foster parents for 3 others.

Chris has developed a unique perspective on reconciliation as he has journeyed through the process of building a relationship between his adopted children and their birth families.

Chris is excited for the challenge of leading Advoz as they continue to work toward changing futures for the better for individuals and for the larger community.


Mission Empathy: Intern Reflections

By Melisa Betancur

A phone call is easy to underestimate. Through my work at Advoz, I learned that a phone call is enough to help build transparency and trust with victims of crimes. The power of empathy flows during these conversations, and I feel the vulnerability in the victim’s voices.

I was a Youth Ministries graduate, but I did not interact with “juvenile offenders” until I came to Advoz. Doing restorative justice and mediation brought me in contact with a lot of different people — youth and adults — and gave me the opportunity to help facilitate the healing of youth, parents, and families who’ve experienced brokenness.

I feel blessed to be a part of the Victim Offender Conferencing Program at Advoz this year—both as an office team member and as one of the conferencing facilitators. One of the most impactful aspects of my job is reading the Victim Impact Statements. Reading a piece of their stories, when they are provided, reminds me how important it is to build empathy.

I discovered that empathy comes easier for some youth than it does for others, and our job as facilitators is to give a gentle nudge in the right direction. In other words, when challenged with objections from young people regarding the severity of their crimes, knowing how to ask the right questions or how to push back on these objections is crucial to help build their understanding of victim empathy.

Reflecting on my time at Advoz, I am reminded of the power of empathy in our office as I give phone calls to victims. The purpose of our initial calls is to gauge the victim’s willingness on hearing updates regarding the juvenile who harmed them. Many times, neither myself at Advoz nor Victim Witness Services is able to get in contact with some of these victims. Interacting with victims of crimes, even if it’s just over the phone, is not to be taken for granted.

I am thankful for the cross-cultural interactions I take part in during my phone calls and meetings with Spanish speaking victims and parents. The ability to communicate with people from other cultures allows Advoz to expand the demographic that we serve.

As I move forward with Advoz, it’s easy for me to remember our mission, the mission that brought me in the door: transforming conflict through face to face dialogue.

Photo of Melisa

Melisa Betancur is a program assistant at Advoz and in a year-long service-learning partnership with the Shalom Project in Lancaster. She was born in Colombia, South America and grew up in Northern New Jersey, earning her BA from Eastern University in 2019.


Restorative Justice & a Tale of Two Schools

The graphic above illustrates the positive differences we can make when we consistently put in the time and energy to shift the culture of our institutions with a restorative justice lens. Changing our community’s culture of conflict is no small goal, but it’s a worthy one because the people at the center of it, our kids, are worth it.

What is a restorative culture? In essence, it’s the ongoing balance of participation for those involved with three goals: 1) accountability to repair harm, 2) enhancing the competence for those committing harm and 3) community safety.

Public schools have for years walked a fine line between the accountability and support of their students as they seek to create a positive learning environment free of violence, bullying and threats. Because students are mandated to attend school, they are also create a de-facto community space in which numerous norms, strengths and challenges converge that reflect our dynamic society.

Zero tolerance education systems were popular among schools searching for simple catch-all solutions to improving students’ behaviors inside and outside the school–with an emphasis on safety. Such schools have used suspension and expulsions that address wrong-doing and removal of those who violate norms or threaten safety. High suspension rates do not correlate to better student development; studies show that the opposite occurs.

Fania Davis, Phd, is the founder of RJOY: Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth and the principle pioneering advocate behind the implementation of restorative justice across the public Oakland Unified School District, serving more than 37,000 students in 118 schools.

Dr. Davis’s experience, not just implementing restorative justice on a large scale but also researching its effectiveness, has much to offer Lancaster County on its own journey to being a more equitable and restorative community. For that reason, Advoz is inviting her to contribute to a Cross-Community Conversation on January 20th with a number of youth stakeholders from education, law enforcement, courts and community leaders. It’s an effort made possible thanks to the partnership with Lancaster County Juvenile Probation and Community Action Partnership and with sponsorship of the Lancaster County Community Foundation and the High Foundation.

Peacemaking is work. It requires attentiveness, perseverance, even blind faith to go the extra mile with each person or organization involved.

It’s a mile worth walking, as we have watched the payoff for places who invest in restorative approaches. In one school district, we worked with teachers for a year only to see the school discontinue its effort. They later established a full-time “restorative facilitator” who is now a resource person for Advoz. It’s one of many steps shifting toward a restorative culture. Read more about effectiveness of implementing Restorative Justice in other schools in Pennsylvania in a study conducted by the Rand Corporation.

Your support of Advoz helps us take one restorative step at a time alongside the many critical institutions here in our community. This year, we raised more than $30,000 in matching “Back to School” support for dozens of troubled youth to get a fresh start through Advoz’s existing restorative justice “victim-offender” dialogue. In November, we raised an additional $33,730 in Lancaster’s Extraordinary Give.

The Cross-Community Conversation with Dr. Fania Davis is another step made possible with the support of our partners and people like you.

Infographic credit: Schott Foundation, Advancement Project, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. More at: http://schottfoundation.org/restorative-practices.


Advoz’s 2018-2019 Annual Report: Core Concentration

Restorative Justice Victim Offender Conferencing cases continue to be about half of Advoz’s caseload, primarily referred from Lancaster County’s Juvenile Probation and Juvenile Court.

Your dollars were a long-term community investment as we concentrated on core programs in mediation and restorative justice. Staff coordinated an impressive team of volunteer mediators in more than 350 cases of dialogue and training, serving more than 700 youth and adults. With the majority of our cases focused on addressing harm in restorative justice dialogue, many of our resources addressed this area of core services for people harmed and those who’ve caused harmed to find healing and make things right through dialogue.

Advoz’s last fiscal year began June 1, 2018, with challenges–too many referrals and too few trained mediators. By year-end, May 31, 2019, we were seeing stronger outcomes in core programs and an increase in the number of cases leading to breakthrough dialogue. Thanks to new volunteer mediators and strong partners, especially the office of Juvenile Probation, we are accomplishing more effective dialogue in our community.

Advoz leveraged more than 80 trained volunteers in working with 300+ cases this year. The above budget doesn’t reflect this volunteer time, only cash spending on core programs and services, much of which comprised of core professional staff to recruit, train, supervise and report on volunteer mediation work. The fiscal year budget represented a relatively stable year-to-year performance. However, 2019-2020 is already showing exciting growth that will allow Advoz to expand programs and realize our transformative potential.


A Voice of Welcome: Addrienne Whitfield

Advoz has a new friendly voice who could be answering your phone call; Addrienne Whitfield began in September as Advoz’s administrative assistant. She joins the organization from the travel and service industry where she brings extensive customer service experience and organizational skills. On any given day, you’ll find Addrienne directing inquiries for conflicts, inviting volunteers to work an event or getting better deals with our vendors. Addrienne enjoys spending time with family and friends, where she already has achieved peacemaker status. In her free time, you’ll find her at music concerts or escaping to the beach.

“I think it’s important that people aren’t just judged or incriminated from their past mistakes. I’m excited to be part of a place that gives a real learning opportunity in our justice system, rather people just feeling bad from what they did,” Addrienne relates.

“I see how people don’t have to carry a burden when they can express themselves and their feelings. They can move forward and put the past behind them. Being part of Advoz is a learning experience for me as well.”

We’re excited to have Addrienne contribute to Advoz’s present and future as she keeps our office humming — with an extra-friendly voice.


Youth with a View: Insight from Romeero, Cultivating the Future of Lancaster

Vision for Lancaster

Romeero Melendez is a young man referred to Advoz’s restorative justice program after a graffiti incident handled by local police and a Youth Aid Panel. He sat down to speak with Advoz about his experience with the justice system in a community heavily impacted by contact with the justice system (law enforcement, courts, probation and prison). Two years after his offense, he’s an active and creative contributor to his community through after-school breakdancing sessions at his church’s storefront, creating and selling his own art and competing on a breakdancing circuit in the Northeastern US.

Advoz: “You have a sense of vision for where you’re going and where your community is going. What can Lancaster be?”

Romeero: “I believe Lancaster can be a place known all around the world, and I already think it is, low key.  I t think it’s the best of both worlds. I think you get all perks of living in a city, but not the negatives of living in a big city. You get the city atmosphere, without the thousands of people. It’s a good place for opportunity, and it’s growing.”

Advoz: “How can we get there?”

Romeero: “We need to make moves to bigger things. There’s a lot of talent, and there currently isn’t that platform to bring people to that next level.  People who made it had to do it all themselves and go somewhere else to do what they were trying to do. I always say people fall into small city syndrome, who don’t see people coming up from their community, so they don’t believe they can make it themselves. We more opportunities to let these people grow.”

Romeero’s Words to Advoz’s Investors and Volunteers

Advoz: “What would you want to say to people who are investors, donors, and volunteers? And what is the value you see?”

Romeero: “I definitely would invest in restorative practices; I honestly just see positives and progression. The way the court system works is not always the best choice to create change, because there a lot of people who need help. They’re not bad people, they just did bad things and got caught-up. If more people got help who were caught up in that negative…they could be successful.”

Chris: “You’re doing a lot now [after being involved in restorative justice] for the community. What’s your hope in giving back?”

Romeero: “I want to be an example of someone who made their own path and followed their own dreams; and didn’t let anyone tell them otherwise. I want to be an example for the city, the urban environment, because that’s where I come from, and encourage people to be an entrepreneur. This is a great time to be an entrepreneur, and because of the internet people can capitalize on their talents. People like cool personalities and can make a living off those opportunities, even in a place like Lancaster.  I want people to understand their potential. I want to keep encouraging people, especially the younger generation to, to pursue their talents. For me it was dancers and DJs in the hip-hop community. I didn’t grow up with a father, and those were the members in the community who were mentors for me.

Walk with Romeero–and his future mentor Ramon Trevino–as they tell the story being involved with Restorative Justice.