Keeping the Thanks in Thanksgiving Conversation

Will your family be hosting a circle dialogue this Thanksgiving?

Many families have a tradition of going around the table and answering the question, “what are you thankful for this year?” This is a great example of an impromptu circle– just grab a talking piece (you can create one or just grab the salt shaker) and set the ground rules that when one person has that talking piece, everyone else is listening!

Remember, others will follow if you set a tone of openness and vulnerability for your circle! Promote strong dialogue with your family and friends this holiday seasons with the following tips:

Conversation starters to spice up your holiday table talk:

  1. What does it mean to you to give thanks?
  2. What expressions of gratitude would leave you feeling most appreciated?
  3. Who at the table would you like to thank personally and for what?
  4. If you could share Thanksgiving dinner with one famous historical figure, who would you choose?
  5. What question would you ask them?
  6. What are you looking forward to in December?

Tips for a constructive conversation:

  1. Avoid starting questions with “why”
  2. Start sentences with “I”
  3. Ask open-ended questions—questions that have more than a 1-word answer
  4. Use your good listening skills–that means no interruptions, watch your body language and try to paraphrase the facts and feels of the speaker
  5. Ask for clarification before making assumptions


Best wishes for a fun and productive conversation!

Meet Miles Iati, Advoz program intern

Advoz:  What are you studying these days?
Miles:  I am a psychology major focusing on developmental and social psychology. I am interested in research and study of trauma, childhood disorders, and addiction.
Advoz: Why were you interested in learning and serving at Advoz?
Miles:  I was initially attracted to Advoz because I thought that the Restorative Justice Conferencing would be a great way for me to get experience working with kids and to practice communication and conflict resolution skills. Now that I have finished the training and completed a few cases, I feel as though I have a good understanding of Advoz’s mission, and I’m looking forward to continuing to volunteer even after my time in the office. 
Advoz: What’s your favorite part about interning for Advoz so far?
Miles: I enjoy exposure to all the programs and trainings that Advoz offers. In addition to the Conferencing training, I also enjoyed participating in the mediation training.
Advoz:  Where do you plan to take the skills and principles learned at Advoz?
Miles:  I plan to use Advoz skills eventually as a school psychologist. Like the communication skills in Advoz’s trainings, I’ve gained some very valuable skills for my professional development.

Meet Erin Lee, Advoz program intern

Meet Erin Lee, our full-time program intern this semester. In her first month, she’s already brought a wealth of organizing and research talent. So let’s get to know her!

Advoz: What is your focus of study?

Erin: Social work with a sociology minor. My main interests include community development, social policy and administration.

Advoz: Why were you interested in learning and serving at Advoz?

Erin: I believe the mediation and restorative practices Advoz offers are essential to maintaining a well-balanced community. When our communities are balanced, there are so many benefits like mental and physical health, an increase in opportunities to develop essential skills for people to contribute the community.

Advoz: What is your favorite part about the internship at Advoz so far?

Erin: I would defiantly have to say, the diverse expertise and skills each staff member has.  When we are in a staff meeting, or brainstorming ideas, I am always learning new ways to analyze and think.

Advoz: Where do you plan to take the skills and principals learned?

Erin: I am currently applying to graduate school for my master’s in social work, concentrating in macro social work.

Advoz: Is there a story about a favorite scar that you can tell?

Erin: My favorite one happened when I was in elementary school cooking dinner with my grandma. I was chopping carrots to make a salad, and I ended up stepping backwards and dropping the knife right down into my foot. I don’t quite remember my reaction (probably tears), but I remember looking down and seeing the knife in the middle of my foot! Thankfully, the knife was small, and I didn’t have to go the emergency room. But I still have the scar on my foot as evidence that I should never be chef.

Say hello to Erin if you happen to come by the Advoz office on North Duke Street. And our Open House is coming up during the Extraordinary Give, Friday, November 16th, when Advoz hosts cappuccino (or chai) and biscotti on the house! More at

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:

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