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Intern Stories: Meet Kiarelys Ortega-Balbuena

My name is Kiarelys Ortega I am currently attending Millersville University for my bachelor’s in Social Work. I originally chose Millersville because of the close proximity to where I live. I help out my parents with translating (their primary language is Spanish), so being able to be close to them was a priority for me. I was born in Puerto Rico and my parents moved us here when I was 6 years old so I would have more opportunities. Because of past experiences, I have always wanted to be a social worker and it led to me being passionate about helping people in my community. Even though classes take up a lot of my time, some of my hobbies include painting, organizing my bedroom, doing crossword puzzles, listening to podcasts, and reading occasionally, (when I discover a good book). 

Advoz initially caught my attention because of the restorative justice aspect they use to solve conflicts. I did not have a lot of previous knowledge on restorative justice, but after learning about it, I found it very interesting and wanted to build knowledge on it. After interviewing for the intern position in November, I searched what restorative justice was and found out that it went hand in hand with a lot of things that I personally valued like preventing future crime, instead of just persecuting and letting the cycle continue. I would like to continue building my knowledge on how restorative justice can be used in everyday situations.

 I also did not know much about the circle process and learned a lot from participating in Advoz’s recent 3-day training. I learned about the steps that facilitators take to ask questions, and even play games, to build relationships before addressing the problem. I was not prepared for the sensitive topics that would be discussed, but I also think that is part of building relationships. The circle structure creates a safe space for this sensitive sharing. Somethings that stood out to me were the backstories that everyone had for their talking pieces and the background on the actual process. I would have never guessed it originated from indigenous models and can be adapted to work for pretty much any population. The training made me feel more confident that I could run my own circle one day and showed the steps that I need to take for it to be successful.  


Intern Stories: Meet Stephanie Fabian

I am currently a senior at Millersville University majoring in Social Work and minoring in Spanish. Since I was a middle school student, I knew I wanted to help people and advocate for unheard voices of vulnerable populations. My mom and her siblings are from Puebla, Mexico so I grew up speaking and reading Spanish, but I wanted to learn how to write and interpret it better.

The work that is done at Advoz was out of my comfort zone. I had never worked with youth before and I wanted to push myself so that I can grow as a person and learn to work with a different population than the one I am used to. I also wanted to bring some of my skills to the organization. I am fluent in Spanish and I wanted to make sure the voices of those with limited English were heard. I have been here for a couple of weeks now and I know that I made the right choice! Their mission, to transform conflict and build community through face to face dialogue, was also a big factor in why I chose to serve at Advoz. The concept of non-traditional justice is what drew me in. The focus on restorative justice and figuring out how to repair what was done as opposed to a punitive measure can be a positive life-changing for youth and I want to be a part of that.

My favorite thing so far has been witnessing the willingness of youth to repair some of the harm they have caused to another individual. Seeing someone so young realize that their actions can have negative consequences gives me hope for their future and the future of the community. I am most looking forward to improving both my communication skills in Spanish and English in a professional setting while making an impact in the lives of those involved within our community. I am also eager to learn more about the work done at Advoz and the impact that they have on the lives of the youth and the victims that come through the program.

I am planning on continuing my studies and getting my master’s in social work next year. I plan to take the skills I learn at Advoz and applying them in graduate school. When I am not in the Advoz office I enjoy spending my free time volunteering and helping in other organizations in the community. I like spending time outdoors with friends and having paint nights or movie nights with them.


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.


Calling All Volunteer (Peace Makers)

There are many ways one can contribute their time and skills to this work at Advoz!

Calls continue into our office: conflicts, crimes, broken relationships. Can you answer this call for peacemakers in our community?

  1. We are looking for volunteers to help community outreach events and training role plays.
  2. September 9th kicks off a new training for volunteer facilitators in restorative justice, and the need is great for reconciliation.
  3. Oct. 3rd is Advoz’s next training in mediation to equip our community with healthy conflict skills.

Read on and consider how you’re called to make a difference…and share this with someone else who might! Thank you.

Advoz seeks volunteers to help with community outreach and training. Check our Sign Up Genius for three easy opportunities to support Advoz’s reconciling work by volunteering at a training or event. Our upcoming events are Sept. 9-14/Oct. 14-19 , October 12 and November 22. Or consider joining one of our intensive trainings in August and September and become a front-line peacemaker yourself. More at (717) 397-2404 or by using the link below.

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Advoz’s Fall of 2019:
Sept. 9 – Oct. 14, 6 evenings & 2 Saturdays: 
Training in Restorative Justice Conferencing (Victim/Offender)
October 3-5, Thursday-Saturday: Basic Mediation Training

New Faces: Jake Rauchberg, Advoz Summer Intern

We welcome Jake Rauchberg this summer from Franklin and Marshall College and the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement. He’s joined Advoz this summer as a full-time intern, assisting in both programs and community outreach. Welcome Jake!

What do you study?

I am rising senior at Franklin & Marshall College and a native of Randolph, NJ. At Franklin & Marshall I study Government and Environmental Studies. I am also a Spanish minor, which gave me the opportunity to study in Havana, Cuba to learn Spanish and more about Afro-Cuban culture. My favorite parts about being at F&M is discovering more about the Lancaster community and all the County has to offer.

What was your motivation in selecting to learn and serve at Advoz?

I knew I wanted to be a part of an organization that was a champion for change in the Lancaster Community. For me, I knew Advoz was that organization! I selected Advoz because of their mission to champion community building and the positive long-term investment mediation and restorative practices creates.

What’s your favorite part about interning at Advoz so far and what are you most looking forward to?

My favorite part about interning at Advoz so far is learning more about restorative justice, and how restorative practices can make a proactive difference in your local community. I enjoy learning from the Advoz staff about the day to day tasks of a local non-profit, and I can’t wait to see Advoz’s mission put into action throughout the summer!

Where do you plan to take the skills and principles learned at Advoz?

I am applying for law school this fall, and I hope to take the value of mediation and restorative practices with me in the future. The idea of an alternative concept of justice is something I am learning about every day, and my goal is to apply the principle mission of Advoz to my future endeavors, wherever that may be.

When you are not in the Advoz office, what do you like to do?

I love the outdoors and hiking on trails around Lancaster, so I am always ready for a new trail or challenge. My favorite place to hike in Pennsylvania is Valley Forge National Park because of the park’s natural beauty, but also for my love of American history. I also love to play and watch soccer. I am a member of the F&M men’s club soccer team, where we travel to and compete against other colleges across Pennsylvania. I am an avid follower of the English Premier League, and my favorite club is Chelsea FC in London!

Look for Jake in Lancaster City this summer, kicking around alternative forms of justice with us as he contributes to Advoz’s court-referred and community-based work…or blazing a trail near you. Welcome Jake!


New Faces: Skyler Gibbon, Advoz Summer Intern

We welcome Skyler Gibbon this summer from Lancaster and Millersville University. She learned about Advoz through our network of partners and mentors and has joined Advoz this summer as our full-time program intern. Welcome Skyler!

What do you study?

I am an English major with a concentration in Writing Studies and an African American Studies minor. I have always had a passion for writing, especially poetry. I enjoy watching other people perform their writing, as well. Through Millersville University I became interested in the connection of African American Studies and rhetoric. I will be graduating and moving onto my English MA studies at Millersville after Advoz and completion my thesis on the rhetorical influence of black preaching within hip hop culture.

What was your motivation to learn and serve at Advoz?

Initially, I wanted to go somewhere that would help me grow, while also utilizing my English degree skills to serve people. I was just browsing possible non profit internship opportunities online with one of my professors. He told me about his own personal experience with Advoz, and about the important work they do for the community. I had never heard of restorative justice conferencing before that and didn’t know why. I wanted to sign up immediately.

Also, I lived abroad a previous year as part of an international intentional community based in the UK. It was here that I learned the value of being vulnerable in order to listen, understand, and work through conflict with the goal of reconciliation. The idea that Advoz could help me build on that within my local Lancaster community was really exciting.

What’s your favorite part about interning at Advoz so far and what are you most looking forward to?

Going into Advoz, I was really interested in diving into everything. I participated in last spring’s conferencing training, and so I’ve just started a few cases now. That’s been really enriching, and a good challenge. Humans have an innate tendency to gravitate away from conflict, and I’m stepping into it.

Plugging in data has been interesting, too, because I have been able to see what narratives make their way into this office. Looking through them has only made me more aware of the significant opportunities restorative justice has in creating real healing. We then give others the opportunity to see faces attached to the narratives.

Where do you plan to take the skills and principles learned at Advoz?

Advoz has been very helpful with learning good communication skills, which means listening properly as well as communicating myself effectively. It’s really good practice in being dialogic, which will be so useful in my academic/professional/personal self. I’m practicing skills here that I will take with me forever.

When you are not in the Advoz office, what do you like to do?

I enjoy the arts. I like writing and listening to poetry, reading, seeing plays, films, any literary events…especially within the Lancaster community. I practically live in the Millersville English Department. I am also active in my church community, where I am a vestry member. Social justice is a passion and value of mine, so I like participating in different promotions of it, too. I’m really into riding my bike, which is an ethereal experience that I use often for commuting when it’s nice out.

If you’re lucky, you can see Skyler cycling around Lancaster, not just to and from Advoz this summer, but also to appointments with Advoz clients. Welcome Skyler!


Advoz Names New Officers

We are pleased to announce a new slate of officers for our board of directors. Advoz, a Lancaster-based nonprofit providing mediation, restorative justice dialogue and conflict resolution training since 1981, recently named a slate of experienced officers to its board:

  • Lucille Connors, of Lititz and CEO of Significa Benefit Services, continued in her second year as board Chairperson;
  • Ken Nissley, of Lancaster and retired IT administrator and restorative justice case manager steps forward as board Vice-Chairperson;
  • John Bomberger, of Millersville, retired CEO of Choice Books steps forward as board Treasurer;
  • John Huber, of Lititz, retired Attorney at Gibbel Kraybill & Hess, steps forward as board Secretary.

Other members include:

  • Peter Faben, Attorney at Barley Snyder LLP;
  • Rob Bomberger, President at Benjamin Roberts, Ltd.;
  • Marjorie Mattey, Retired healthcare services consultant;
  • John Eby, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Messiah College;
  • Dawn Gamble, CPA, CGMA, CFO consultant;
  • James Landis, Management Consultant at Core4;
  • Barbara Spiegelberg, retired real estate professional;
  • Deanna Weaver, Deputy Director at Lancaster Victim/Witness Services.

Advoz formed from the 2017 merger of Conflict Resolution Services and the Center for Community Peacemaking, both having served Lancaster County and beyond for a combined 59 years. In its most recent fiscal year, Advoz served more than 900 youth and adults involved in conflicts and crime to assist them through facilitated dialogue and education training. Demand for these services has risen 40% over the past two years, adding urgency to the work of Advoz’s board of directors to increase funding and volunteer involvement.

Advoz is one of the most active restorative justice and mediation services in Pennsylvania thanks to its partnerships in local justice system and support from volunteers and donors in the community.

Advoz staff is led by Chris Fitz, of Marietta, executive director of community engagement, and Mila Pilz, of Manheim Twp, executive director of program operations.


Creating Peace Takes Effort…and You

By Chris Fitz

When people talk about “peace,” I often hear an assumption of tranquility or calmness. Not usually so at Advoz. German philosopher Immanuel Kant once distinguished between the “peace of the graveyard” in its quiet stillness and a peace wrought by vigorously building agreements. This active peace is a core Advoz value, built into the meaning of Advoz, “to add voice.” It’s not easy. And your part is more necessary than ever.

This year’s event theme, Creating Peace, was inspired by a young man who didn’t flinch when he was invited into active dialogue with Advoz. “Reme” had been caught spraying illegal graffiti by the warehouse owner and police. And when the owner opted not to participate in restorative dialogue, Advoz invited Ramon, a community volunteer to stand-in as a “surrogate victim” in restorative dialogue.

Ramon working on the graffiti instillation at a local school

As it happened, Ramon is also a professional graffiti artist and was able to speak to the respect that’s missing in illicit graffiti. Ramon invited Reme to help work on a professional mural at a local school (above), and they kept in touch as Reme began building his own entrepreneurial portfolio. Reme knows that peace is work. Creative work.

If you want to appreciate this more fully—and find out how it ends—Reme and Ramon are featured guests at our Around the Table signature event on April 30th. You’ll meet them and their artwork if you join us.

Creating peace takes effort. And the dozens of volunteers that comprise Advoz’s team of mediators and facilitators know that. They often report feeling both exhausted and rewarded after a dialogue session. So do participants. They’re often reluctant to participate in dialogue at all because the outcome in uncertain. But despite the effort it entails, more people are seeking to work through conflict and crime through dialogue at Advoz.

Program growth from 2016-2018


“Over the past two years, demand for Advoz’s core services of restorative justice and family mediation has soared 40%”

Over the past two years, demand for Advoz’s core services of restorative justice and family mediation has soared 40% from 225 to 314 requests. Those additional 89 cases have begun outpacing our capacity to respond in a timely way. A new class of trained facilitators and mediators will increase Advoz’s capacity to help people in conflict create peace together. But as this opportunity unfolds, we face the critical question, can we respond to it?

As someone who understands the life-long community impact of creating peace with youth like Reme and families in a critical transition, you can also play a vital role sustaining it for someone else. We face an estimated additional 50 cases and $30,000 in cost during 2019. And we invite you to consider a making a special kind of contribution, a monthly “Sustaining Table gift” to sponsor one case in 2019 at $50/month ($600), over two years at $25/month or over six months at $100/month ($1,200).

Go to our special campaign page www.SustainingTable.org and join hundreds of courageous folks like Reme and Ramon in the hard work of creating peace.


Advoz’s Dignity in Dialogue Recipient: Salina Almanzar

Advoz is excited to announce this year’s Dignity in Dialogue recipient, Salina Almanzar. A native of Lancaster City, Almanzar is a visual artist, educator and community activist whose work has impacted residents of Lancaster. Almanzar’s art serves as a catalyst for countless conversations about the role of the Latinx community within Lancaster, neighborhood revitalization and the implementation of the arts within our school systems.

Holding a MS in Art Administration from Drexel University, Almanzar has established herself as an influential member of Lancaster City. She stands as the youngest and first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to the School District of Lancaster Board of Directors, serves on the Community Engagement Committee for the Fulton Theater and is a teaching artist for Lancaster Public Art at Culliton Park. 

Salina Almanzar
Salina Almanzar during one of many community arts events that she has led.

As a community artist she has dedicated countless hours toward researching the cultural space of the Latinx community within Lancaster City. Her Graduate thesis focuses on Creative Placemaking within the Lancaster Latinx Community where she curated countless stories from community members in an effort to shed light on an underrepresented population of Lancaster. Through her art she strives to create spaces of expression and cultural preservation for Latinx people in the Lancaster area, as well as creating permanent places for the community to share.

Community art collectives have been a staple throughout Almanzar’s professional art career, and she has employed her creativity to help shed light on issues within the Lancaster Community. Some of her projects include Love Notes to a Park (the ongoing revitalization on Culliton park and its surrounding neighborhoods), Arts and Craft Pop Ups, This Neighborhood Is: Portraits of Culliton Park, Like Water Community Zine, Somos Semillas at the Mix at Arbor Place, and Alza La Voz.

Almanzar sets an example for us all on the importance of art within the healing process. Her art encourages community members to congregate into one space and engage with each other while creating open spaces for dialogue. On her website she states, “making together, much like sharing a meal, has the capacity to break down barriers, open up new avenues for conversation, and reveal bonds that may not otherwise be exposed”. Art, just like the dinner table, brings people together.

“Making together, much like sharing a meal, has the capacity to break down barriers, open up new avenues for conversation, and reveal bonds that may not otherwise be exposed.” 

Advoz invites you to join us April 30 for our Around the Table where we will share stories of reconciliation in our community, enjoy a seated dinner and silent and live auction, enjoy art from School District of Lancaster, and connect with fellow peacemakers. Show your support for Advoz’s reconciling dialogue and hear testimonials from the ones who’ve been through it.

For more information please visit http://AroundtheTable.org or email chair@aroundthetable.org. See you around the table!


Making the Shift Happen, with Neighbors and Politics

“The shift” is often imperceptible in mediation. What starts out as a heated and contentious business negotiation suddenly turns to a rational exchange with voices even and tempers cooled.

Soon after, folks in the room are finding their own way toward an agreement, generating their own solutions, testing them and finding resolution.

It’s a process we see every week at Advoz, a Lancaster nonprofit that offers mediation and restorative justice services.

And it’s a process for which we can see a real need in our current national political struggle.

But how do we get there? How can we make the shift happen in America?

President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that a deal had been reached to reopen the federal government. The partial federal government shutdown had lasted 35 days — the longest in U.S. history.

Congress and the White House now have until Feb. 15 to negotiate a deal involving the thorny issues of immigration and border security. As a mediator, I see this as a clear opportunity.

The pain of the shutdown was not felt equally. The pain of federal workers, contractors and their families is what we honor in asking the question: How can we, the American people, help to avoid another such impasse?

It would be easy to suggest mediation tools for lawmakers to find common ground and make the big “shift” happen. But the opportunity before us is not just a political one, it’s a cultural one. If we citizens can’t talk to our neighbors about divisive issues, how can we expect our representatives to do that?

So what follows are a few ideas, many of which were articulated in the best-selling book, “Getting to Yes” (Fisher & Ury, 1981), for how to approach the current moment as an opportunity — for our elected representatives and for ourselves:

— Separate the person from the problem: What do you deeply want in our national political debate? What does that look like in your life, day to day? How can you talk about that in terms of your own story (rather than blaming or comparing)? What does your neighbor, your representative deeply want for themselves and our shared community? Can you ask them?

— Explore underlying interests and needs below publicly stated positions: Your neighbor may say they want “border security” or “border freedom” but there may be deeper interests. What might they be for you? For your neighbor? Can you ask your neighbor about his or her deep needs and concerns? Can you model courageous vulnerability to share your needs and concerns? Can you listen without judging, advising and assuming, and stay curious?

— Make an offer: As you struggle in a difficult conversation, you might find an opportunity to contribute something constructive. The shift happens, in part, because one person has the courage to recognize or appreciate the other, to create or suggest something new, to contribute positively despite feeling threatened.

Perhaps ask: “I wonder what it would like if our kids … .”

What can you offer to move the situation forward one step? Voicing this once is not a guarantee, but it is at times a surprising antidote to a cycle of critical one-upmanship, blame and defensiveness.

Conversation starters

Need a few one-liners? These could be used in many conflictive situations — or with your elected representatives — to shift a conversation toward breakthrough:

  • “How were you personally affected by the government shutdown?”
  • “Could you tell me more about that?”
  • “What do you hope for our community and our country?”
  • “What values do you think that we share as a community? As a country, even across party lines?”
  • “Could you imagine a positive path forward toward our shared values?”
  • “What can you offer to move this situation forward just one step?”
  • “Here’s what I can offer.”

Finding common ground

In 1995, I landed in Northern Ireland to study what had been a 25-year run of seemingly endless violence, division, discrimination and political impasse among the Roman Catholics and Protestants there.

But working amid the din of bombings and political bombast were Catholic and Protestant clergy, lay leaders and politicians in quiet conversations with paramilitary leaders. Those secret conversations, some lasting nearly 10 years, led to a permanent ceasefire of the major paramilitary organizations, followed by a long series of political discussions and agreements. Everyone I met on the street seemed to still be in a state of disbelief, asking the question, “How could such a shift just suddenly happen?”

As members of the greater Lancaster County community, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, helpless and disempowered in the face of seemingly intractable national conflicts. But we live in a diverse community right next to people who share very different positions with equally passionate conviction.

In our own backyard, we have an opportunity to apply the lessons of mediation, to find our own common ground through quiet conversation.

If we can do that, we can join Northern Ireland and hundreds of other unsung peace processes around the world, leading our representatives to sit down — out of the glare of media cameras — and look each other in the eye, and hear each other in a new way.

That’s the kind of leadership that can make America’s big shift happen, not just in the weeks ahead, but during the many inevitable challenges — and opportunities — to come.

Christopher Fitz is executive director of community engagement at Lancaster-based Advoz: Mediation & Restorative Practices, which was created by the merger of Conflict Resolution Services and the Center for Community Peacemaking. Mila Pilz, executive director of program operations at Advoz, contributed to this column.

This article appeared on the Lancaster Newspaper Op-Ed section on January 27, 2019.