Relationships and their Critical Conflict Moments

By Mila Pilz, Executive Director, Program Operations

A woman in her early 30’s called our office recently. She and her husband have two children living with them plus both of her parents, one of whom has Alzheimer’s. It was becoming too much to handle,  and she was unwilling to sacrifice one set of relationships for another. Could she and her adult brothers find a new way forward amid the tension and growing resentment?

At the core of Advoz’s values is a belief that conflict and harm are a natural part of our lives. Sometimes, they are even beneficial for our personal and relational growth. It is how we handle that conflict and harm—the process—that makes the difference. Will our hero’s family grow from the challenge or become increasingly divided and retreat to their own comfort corners? This next critical process defines the relationships and future of this family.

Her story is not unique. According to a May 2018 AARP article, “Millennials: The Emerging Generation of Family Caregivers,” there are 40 million family caregivers in the United States, a quarter of which are millennials. Millennials are loosely defined, but typically considered to be those born between the years 1980-1996. This means that 1 in 4 of the family caregivers are between the ages of 22-38; the same population that according to the Pew Research Center, made up 82% of US births in 2016. The “sandwich generations,” younger than previously thought, are maintaining a fine balance of taking care of their parents, their children and themselves. And it’s increasingly clear that many caught in these generational transitions need support to navigate the news kinds of conflicts that emerge.

Working with Advoz staff, our hero and key family members agreed to be part of an intentional conversation, convened by Advoz mediators, to address their many challenges directly. Taking place at their home to accommodate the elders’ needs, the intense session revealed new insights and options, even among family members familiar with the situation. Over three hours the family learned how afraid their father was about going to a retirement community, how the mother needed additional care, and how each of the siblings felt differently about working together. An agreement was forged that included research on retirement homes, medical and financial assistance. Even though the outcome had specific points of agreement, it was the shift in their relationships that was most salient.

For this family, and many others, “conflict” turned into “opportunity” because a mediated conversation enabled them to talk openly about difficult issues in a safe space. Their relationships could weather the storm of this life milestone and create the next big step…together.


Listening Lowers the Learning Curve: a Design Intern’s View

Lauren Runkle is Advoz’s graphic design intern for the summer. She is a rising senior at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster, PA. 

I barely had a grain of knowledge about Advoz before starting as a graphic design intern here this summer. So at first, it was a struggle to communicate the cause through graphics. Of course it helped to research the website and newsletters to give me a taste of this grassroots organization and what it does. However, I achieved better understanding by listening to stories and even attending one of the trainings, the Basic Mediation Training in May. It is amazing to see relationships in the community heal through peaceful and restorative measures as opposed to traditional, punitive methods, and it’s clear that we need more of what Advoz does. I have tried to let Advoz’s positive results inspire me as I worked on various projects.

Translating Advoz’s mission was not only challenging conceptually, but also technically. Because Advoz does not have easy access to expensive graphic design programs, most of the files I worked with are from Microsoft and my graphic design training never associated Microsoft Office as a go-to platform. So I was somewhat concerned in the beginning as the learning curve was steep and sometimes difficult trying to make software do what it wasn’t designed to do. Thankfully, the learning curve has tapered off, and I no longer feel intimidated by using Word or Publisher for design-related tasks.

Interning at Advoz has been a wonderful experience. From presentation materials to blogs to social media to supporter relations, I feel proud of what I have accomplished here, helping to tell the Advoz story with images as well as words. I became more aware about an extraordinary cause, and I contributed my skills to help it accomplish its goals to reach out in the community. I am grateful for the opportunity of the working with Advoz.


This is how we rolled Around the Table

We are still savoring the inspiration and generosity that flowed from Around the Table, our annual event on April 19. So I wanted to share a few nuggets of inspiration with you…including a hint of the positive feedback that we heard (so far) with the “word cloud” above. If you were there, you can still add your voice to feedback on the event.

The 2018 Around the Table selfie

Our community’s peacemakers — the official 2018 Around the Table selfie with MCs Brock Miller and Chris Boyd (left), Advoz executive director of community engagement, Chris Fitz (front left), Advoz executive director of program operations, Mila Pilz (back right), Dignity in Dialogue Awardee Amanda Kemp (center) and special guest Janet Connors (right).

Together, speakers and guests brought a down-to-earth message of hard-won dignity, challenging dialogue and grace-filled change around our tables. Some highlights included:

  • The clear innocent voices of singing children from SWAN4Kids.
  • The bare honesty of Amanda Kemp’s silent pause in the interview conversation with Scott LaMar,
  • The painful and forgiving experience of Janet Connor’s restorative work, having “power-WITH” youth, even in grief,
  • The enthusiasm of teacher Rob Fennimore using Advoz and restorative practices in his own teaching,
  • The generosity coaxing by Tim Keller and his auction team as they energized the crowd both on Advoz’s mission and support,
  • The honored leadership of outgoing board president, Miles Yoder, as he passed the “talking stick”-baton to incoming president, Lucille Connors,
  • The enthusiastic bidding and involvement of the audience throughout the evening.

Here are a few snips from the evening…

So the fundraising results are in, and 2018 will go down as one of Advoz’s most generous evenings yet. The gathered audience contributed nearly twice as much per person that night as in prior years, netting more than $24,000 toward Advoz’s work this year.

You can see and share some beautiful event photos on Facebook and below. And while you’re there, be sure to “like” Advoz on Facebook or follow on Twitter @advozpa.

And please be sure to thank the many companies (below) that led this event from its inception. We look forward to inviting you again in 2019 around the table as we continue to “walk the talk” in our thriving, striving, peaceable community.

With gratitude for our 2018 Around the Table Sponsors, Supporters and Bidders, and to so many others who furthered Advoz’s reconciling work Around the Table in 2018.

Chris Fitz, Mila Pilz and the 2018 Around the Table Team

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Emily Kelly brings organizing, business skills to Advoz

We are excited to welcome the newest member of the Advoz staff team, Emily Kelly, our administrative and volunteer assistant. Emily brings a host of business and organizing skills, having graduated from Messiah College and studied both Peace & Conflict Studies and Business Administration. Having herself experienced entrepreneurial success in real estate, she will now be applying her considerable organizational skills and energy to Advoz’ mission.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work every day for an organization with a mission that I deeply believe in,” she relates.

Emily moved to the City of Lancaster in 2016 and is grateful to be part of an experienced team building peace in her community. At Advoz, she hopes to increase her own personal communication, incorporate those skills into other areas of her life and train to become a mediator. When she’s not serving Advoz, she enjoys going to the gym, leading a Bible study and having a home that is intentionally open to other young adults.


Circle Process: What Needs to Be Heard

By Circle Process facilitator Daryl Snider (names and details changed to protect privacy)

This was the first time everyone had come together since the conflict arose. I felt an odd mixture of stress and delight from the eight people as they arrived for the Circle Process. They had been close before it all exploded, and the strong feelings were evident, differently in each person. Some were quiet and stiff, while others were chatty and joking. Our gracious hosts served coffee and tea.

As the Circle started, even the jovial participants tensed up—a natural response in a situation that feels dangerous. As a Keeper of this Circle, however, I knew from listening to each of them that they feared hurting others as much as getting hurt themselves.

“Terry” was almost shaking. Some had warned my co-keeper and me that Terry might derail the whole process. At first, Terry had been reluctant to engage at all, but after we listened to their story and concerns, Terry was willing to give this Circle a try—to everyone’s surprise.

We started with a light warm-up activity, building a sculpture together out of random scraps of wood and construction materials. We took turns around the Circle placing an object in the sculpture or rearranging them until everyone was satisfied. I noticed that even here, different approaches stood out. Some had a clear vision of what they were building. Some were being polite and careful not to disturb what others wanted to do. Some seemed determined to undo what others did. And some took risks, placing objects in precarious positions. We shared laughter and enjoyed this diversion, with a focus on building something fun together. The ice was melting.

Janet Connors working through grief and anger with teens using a circle process.

The Circle shifted to talking about “values,” and together, we listed shared values that help us be at our best, committing ourselves to them: honesty, openness, listening, empathy, respect, grace.

Then we began rounds of the Circle with guiding questions, passing the Talking Piece from one person to another. At first folks were worried about offending others or saying the wrong thing. Eventually, it was Terry—the live wire—who pushed us forward saying, “Let’s just say what needs to be said.” Pretty quickly then, that’s what happened. There were many tears as people shared their pain and their love for each other. No, their friend hadn’t suddenly become an awful person; they were hurting or afraid. Apologies were offered and readily accepted. It was time for our Circle to close, and everyone was talking freely.

This Circle did not resolve everything, but it started something in motion. There was relational mending yet to do and a larger community to involve. But the Circle provided a space safe enough to say “what needed to be said” and hear what needed to be heard. The result was real and sacred connection, renewed trust, and confidence that we can indeed get through such things—and come out stronger and wiser.


Advoz at One Year

Maybe it’s the work we do with youth. Maybe it’s seeing the dramatic about-face change of heart in a conflict or crime. Maybe it’s the “a ha” you’ve had seeing your own relational skills make a difference around you. It’s clear after one year merging two storied organizations, that you and 2,500 others follow Advoz for slightly different reasons. But there is one big thread: change.

In Advoz’s first year, we’re seeing change in exciting ways. A surge of interest in Circle Process and deeper dialogue training, especially with schools, has doubled the number of people served. It also means that Advoz is becoming more community-involved as the graph (below) suggests. Thank you for supporting this change journey.

Advoz is serving the community in a large way with historic numbers in comparison to what we did as the Lancaster Mediation Center and the Center for Community Peacemaking. We served nearly twice the number of folks as in 2016, with a nearly equal number of youth and adults (860 and 833 respectively). The large part of those served came from the Restorative Schools Training in which 650 people took part, 450 being students from the School District of Lancaster. service that has grown quickly is the customized training, where we worked with 145 youth and 292 adults in various community groups. We have blossomed in our first year as Advoz and will continue to extend our roots to build a stronger foundation for reconciliation in Lancaster County and beyond.


Amanda Kemp to Accept Dignity in Dialogue Award on April 19

Scholar, teacher, poet, playwright, performer, activist, author, workshop facilitator: Dr. Amanda Kemp has carved a creative and courageous path of conversation-making, much of it right here in Lancaster County. Dr. Kemp has been nominated for Advoz’s 2018 Dignity in Dialogue Award for her unshrinking work in cross-community conversations and an empathetic orientation to challenging conversations around racism and race relations that she has exemplified for years in the Lancaster County community and beyond.

Dr. Amanda Kemp’s work and life blends activism and spirituality, theatre arts and history. Most recently, she authored the book, Say the Wrong Thing, a heart-centered, forgiveness-focused approach to engaging in hard conversations, especially those around race and racism.

A survivor of the New York City foster care system, Dr. Kemp has been a lifelong poet-performer and advocate of racial justice and equality since her first anti-apartheid march in 1983.  She earned her B.A. from Stanford University where she helped to lead the Stanford out of South Africa divestment movement and the successful struggle to revamp the University’s Eurocentric humanities requirement. Kemp went on to complete doctoral work in Performance Studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, with an active role in the end of South Africa’s Apartheid era.

A master teacher, Dr. Kemp has taught at Cornell University, Dickinson College, Millersville University, and Franklin & Marshall College where she served as the chair of Africana Studies. She has keynoted Martin Luther King programs at colleges, high schools, and in elementary school settings.  Kemp is currently a Visiting Scholar in Africana Studies at Franklin & Marshall College and continues to publish on race, performance and freedom.

See more about this amazing leader in “dignity in dialogue” right here in our community at:

https://www.dramandakemp.com/about/meet-dr-kemp/

Join us to congratulate Dr. Amanda Kemp as she receives Advoz’s Dignity in Dialogue Award and facilitates the keynote conversation with special guest Janet Connors at Around the Table, the Advoz annual dinner, April 19th, at the Eden Resort. Tickets at AroundtheTable.org.

 


Last Call to Circle Up Film Screening – March 22

A few seats remain for tomorrow’s Circle Up movie screening at Penn Cinema, 7 pm, Thursday, March 22, 2018.

The film follows Janet Connors and another mother, Clarissa Turner (pictured in the screenshot below, right to left)  as they reach out to those who killed their sons with hope for forgiveness…and the community change they create together to break the cycles of violence and revenge. Join us for an evening to learn and gain inspiration for what’s possible beyond the everyday story of “violence and youth.”

If you still want to see the film on Thursday, March 22, just show up at 6:50 pm to the event at Penn Cinema and pay at the door. $12 per seat. We look forward to continuing conversations around this powerful film…and look forward to welcoming Janet Connors to our annual dinner, Around the Table, April 19th at the Eden Resort. See: www.AroundtheTable.org.

With gratitude for sponsorship by:


Restorative Justice with Mark McKenzie on WSBA/WARM103

Listen as Mark McKenzie, from WSBA and WARM103, brings Molly Sollenberger and Chris Fitz on the air, this past fall, to discuss Advoz’s restorative justice through face-to-face dialogue involving crime victims and offenders. Also chronicled on the video Make Things Right, Molly talks here about how she was involved as a crime victim to make things right with the young offenders involved — and what her dialogue accomplished. Listen now…


Getting the “why” of Advoz

From Marina McDonough, Advoz fall intern, sophomore at Harrisburg Area Community College

Interning in the Advoz office this past fall, I’ve seen some of the most routine and most interesting parts of the work. During one of our weekly meetings, we went through a group brainstorm activity that helped me think about my own contributions to Advoz. The activity looked at three levels of any organization or team and how to build a common focus, but it also showed me my own motivation for working for peace in the community.

The first level is the “what’s.” What do we do with our time in the office? What do we do with our limited resources? What services do we offer? For Advoz, this is volunteer trainings, dialogue-focused events, and most of all, mediations. Then Advoz shares as much information about the work as they can, with donors, volunteers and surrounding communities. This was my first stage of learning; I learned what was done at Advoz.

Next came the “how’s,” which are difficult to get in summary forms, like a monthly newsletter. How do we get from point A to point B? How does an idea become a campaign? And how does an eager individual become a mediator? I saw a lot of hard work, including hours’ worth of behind the scenes jobs that were necessary, but thankless and often unnoticed. I saw the process of reading feedback from volunteers, of making something better than it was the last time. I learned about the importance of diversity and cooperation within a team and the value of communication.

Finally, come the “why’s,” which are at the marrow an organization like Advoz. I spent many hours in the office, and learned valuable information about the how’s and the what’s, but what I will remember came from three hours on a Tuesday night when I had the chance to observe a mediation between two people. Experiencing forgiveness and kindness, or frustration and relief is a world of difference from reading a story online or a statistical report on restorative justice. As well as vulnerability and resilience, the relationship formed, if only for three hours, shone brightest. I was able to see a transformation of two opposing individuals, an offender and a victim, two human beings who understood and in the end, wished only goodness for each other. For me, that is the “why.”

At Advoz, I learned about the unquantifiable value of bare, unguarded human connection. To hear it through Herman Melville, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”