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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.


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.


Cutting through the Buzz: Facilitating Summer Learning

By Jake Rauchberg

There was a buzz in the room. Between my excitement for my first Advoz program and the white noise engulfing the space, I could barely hear myself think. But it wasn’t the sort of buzz that you normally hear when you walk into a church on the weekend. Not the white noise that gleefully fills the air with chatter and smiling faces greeting you. In fact, it was the opposite: mouths shut and arms crossed–utter silence. The only real buzz in the room was from the air conditioning unit drowning out unspoken feelings of apathy and resistance.

Then, as we embarked on the two-and-a-half hour parent workshop for Making Peace, I watched in awe at how the facilitators took a room full of discord and made discourse. 

Though Making Peace was a just a brief snippet of my summer internship with Advoz, what I experienced in those two-and-a-half hours redefined how I look at conflict, communication and community building.  In a matter of moments, the facilitators were able to tackle conflict head-on and establish a workshop that invited open and honest dialogue among unenthusiastic participants (and even myself!).

My summer experience showed me that change can happen on all levels. Whether it was watching the power of a one-on-one victim-offender conference allow an individual to see promise in their future, or observing the progression of a Making Peace workshop create small but meaningful moments to inspire a change in the relationships between parents and their children; I learned that resolution comes in many shapes and sizes. 

My summer with Advoz taught me that in all conflict, there is opportunity for change, no matter where I end up I know that the values I learned in my Advoz summer are ones that I can take into the future. Thank you to all who gave me such a memorable summer — staff, volunteers and yes, the buzzing, open-minded families in that Making Peace workshop.

Jake Rauchberg is a rising senior at Franklin and Marshall College and just completed his summer internship with Advoz through the Ware Center for Civic Engagement.


Peacebuilding across Generations: Elliot Martin

By Skyler Gibbon, Advoz Intern

Hearing his father’s stories around the dinner table inspired Elliot Martin to get involved with Advoz. “It sounded beautiful. There are really important principles of restorative justice. Needing to address the harm in conflict is applicable to all of life. I think dad modeled that in some ways. He is an example of working that into the soul. I try to do that on my own, as well,” he conveys. 

When they sat down for supper, Tim Martin, Elliot’s dad, veteran restorative justice facilitator with Advoz, would often tell him about “the case” he was working on and developments that happened. Tim found the stories intriguing.

Hearing Elliot tell his own story alongside his father, listening and communication emerge as a important theme. They are integral to restorative justice processes. Elliot reveals that his dad has confessed to having trouble being a good listener, but it’s something he’s been aware of, especially in the last decade. “Seeing him trying to improve his listening skills…seeing how important it is to him…that’s an edge and a challenge. Seeing him work on that was exemplary,” Elliot adds. Elliot was inspired to incorporate that value into his own life and relationships. His father also related to this notion.

Photo: kids see what adults do...and how they handle their own faults.

“In the past 15 years, I’ve been working on myself and my own character defects,” Tim adds. By functioning as a facilitator, he’s been strengthening this area for himself and everyone around him.

Elliot participated in this spring’s restorative justice conferencing training, a program that equips him to facilitate face-to-face dialogue between “victims” and “offenders” who experience or inflicted harm in a crime. He has learned an immense amount already in his brief time volunteering. He finds that Advoz attracts a certain personality that holds certain values which he identifies with. The cases can be challenging, but he appreciates the support he receives. Elliot is energized by the challenge and likes putting the knowledge he has been given into practice. “I am an amateur and haven’t actually had a joint conference yet, so that’s something I am really looking forward to,” he says.

Elliot believes that working with Advoz is a great way for young people of his generation to become aware of the benefits of restorative justice. He encourages young people to attend a training, a great resource for helping with skills such as listening, conflict styles awareness, trigger words, and recognizing and addressing the harm. He also appreciated the wealth of literature available now in the field.

Elliot see empathy as vital to doing this work well. To anyone starting out, he emphasizes the importance of being gracious, recognizing the good, not judging people and becoming aware of where an “offender” might be coming from. He advises new facilitators not to jump to conclusions about why people do the harmful things they do. “Preparing oneself to be really empathetic is important, and also to be curious and open to learning constantly…and not just thinking about how people should be,” Elliot implores.

Tim, his father, agrees that patience and understanding is essential to a facilitator’s role. “I just try to keep an open mind. It’s complex. You don’t know what they are going through,” Tim adds. There is often a lot of stimulation and inattentiveness to the children when he arrives at some of his meetings.  “As you listen, sometimes you get surprised at some of their answers. They are not what you expect. One of the kids’ needs is being listened to, because (often) nobody listens to them.”

Tim and Elliot believe giving the kids a well-formed space to use their voice can be meaningful for them–and transforming. “Sometimes the parents want to talk for the kid,” Tim adds. And he knows all about the challenges—and triumphs–of learning to listen better.

Elliot continues to learn from his dad’s example…and to grow in his own journey of learning and empathy for people he’s met through the restorative justice process. And now, they can bond over it, together, at the dinner table.


Spreading Peace Across Generations: Tim Martin

By Skyler Gibbon, Advoz Intern

Meet Tim and Elliot Martin, a father son duo volunteering with Advoz. After years of conversations about cases around the dinner table, Elliot decided to try it out for himself this spring. He joined the victim offender conferencing training and now shares with his dad in making peace in our community by facilitating restorative justice.

Tim was introduced to Advoz (LAVORP at the time) by another volunteer and wanted to get on board with victim/offender conference facilitation as a way to give back. He enjoyed working with youth soccer at the time. “It felt like the right time in my life,” says Tim. He was attracted to the restorative quality of that work.

Tim’s interest in restorative justice goes back to childhood and his own father. His dad caught Tim playing with toy army men that he stole from the local grocery store. He angrily marched Tim down to the store and made him confess what he did to the manager. To make amends, Tim had to work to pay back the stolen toys. It didn’t mean a lot to Tim, but he saw the significance of what this meant to his father. “The fact that he made time to take me there and sit me down with that guy… and I cried like a baby because I was guilty. I never stole again because of that. He was a great model for me,” Tim says.

That personal experience of committing a crime as a very young child is ultimately what brought Tim to working with juveniles in restorative justice. “I know it works…My father didn’t have any training. He was just parenting,” Tim reflects. He was working and putting three kids through college at the same time he was volunteering for Advoz.

Advoz has personally impacted Tim. His volunteering has helped him to build boundaries and work harder to make things right. It made him think about his own life and how he raised his kids. “I want to make sure I model for them the way my dad did for me,” he says. 

Coming to the final joint meeting of a victim/offender conferencing process gives him a profound joy. Watching an adult come around to the youth and say, “I didn’t think you were a bad kid” is a moving experience, he reflects. He is inspired seeing victims giving encouragement to people they did not respect at the beginning, with every right to be angry. Seeing the transition in their attitude is something miraculous for him to witness. Walking out of each case from the beginning to the end is “breathtaking., Tim says with awe. “It’s God’s work.”

Now Tim’s son, Elliot is taking up this work as a facilitator. Stay tuned for more on his experience with Advoz, and how his father inspired him to get involved with restorative justice and continue it in his own way.


Welcome Krista Rittenhouse

Krista Rittenhouse got involved with Advoz training and volunteering in our Restorative Justice Conferencing program this spring. But she went above and beyond the call of duty by successfully reaching out to dozens of people impacted by crime and violations on the phone. Now Krista is the Restorative Justice Case Manager and will coordinate and coach volunteer facilitators on 150+ cases of harm each year.

Graduating from Eastern Mennonite University in 2014, Krista studied peacebuilding, development and Spanish, with a special interest in restorative justice. She comes to Advoz with a range of experience in social services, mission work and retail management.

Krista is excited to help people heal relationships and invest in Lancaster city youth. She is an avid runner and also loves rock climbing, board games, and sharing food with friends. Stop by our office and find out why Krista is Advoz’s latest rock star.