Role-Modeling Restorative Practices

As I write this blog, I am in my ninth week of interning with Advoz: Mediation & Restorative Practices. It has been a healing experience for me to work with Advoz staff and volunteers because they center relationships in all aspects of their work. I have witnessed and experienced the team affirming me, each other, and those they work with, being fully present with each other and those they work with, and accepting everyone they meet.

Advoz has challenges like any organization, meeting deadlines, promoting its mission to the community, finding clients, and carrying out the tasks of daily operations. However, staff and volunteers meet these challenges with integrity because they practice and embody the communication skills they teach in their training and practice the values Advoz holds. In my many years of being part of multiple workplaces, community, and faith organizations, I can say that during these weeks with Advoz I have felt my humanity, both my limitations and strengths, affirmed the most. Relationships are the core of restorative practices and I observe that Advoz “practices what it preaches”. 

“…during these weeks with Advoz I have felt my humanity, both my limitations and strengths, affirmed the most.”

An integral part of doing restorative practices with integrity is staff and volunteers taking the time to reflect and process participant feedback from facilitated mediations, restorative conferences, and trainings. In a world where time is money, most organizations do not prioritize the practice of reflecting and processing. Restorative and transformative justice work is built on openness and trust which leads to healing. By reflecting on feedback and making needed adjustments, Advoz is modeling vulnerability and trust. I have been honored to be part of this process over the last two months and have learned so much, as people with varying amounts of experience share their thoughts and welcome my perspective. 

“By reflecting on feedback and making needed adjustments, Advoz is modeling vulnerability and trust.”

Another foundational part of doing restorative practices well is having support from other practitioners and the general community. I have felt this deeply through opportunities to share my questions and concerns with Advoz staff and volunteers as I wrestle with what is rising up from my own story as I practice facilitating. I also appreciate friends and family who have asked questions about restorative justice and given me opportunities to share about Advoz’s work. 

Restorative and transformative justice takes intentional steps to disrupt patterns that do not serve everyone. I’m glad for the opportunity to practice what I have been learning during my study of restorative justice with the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, with Advoz, and with others in my community. 

Interning for Mediation: Riley Sloat

Riley – Our Mediation Intern

I am Riley Sloat, and I am currently a senior at Elizabethtown Senior Highschool. I am interested in having a career as a mediator due to the business and Personal Law class I took in my sophomore year, wherein part of the curriculum was to do a mock mediation.

Although a 20-minute guided activity was nowhere near comparable to the real thing, I discovered that I liked the setting and atmosphere mediation provided compared to any alternative ways to resolve disputes introduced by the class. Mediation seems much more appealing because it focuses on communication between two people and not their avatars. It comes up with a mutual agreement. It hadn’t felt like it solved a singular issue but instead provided the tools to bridge a gap between two more people. I’ve since figured that mediation was something I wanted to pursue.

Due to a lack of genuine insight into what such a profession entails and a need for work experience credit to graduate, I’ve sought out Advoz to work as their intern. Advoz initially struck me as an organization that has demonstrated genuine care for the people it helps, whether it be via its mediation or restorative justice program. In many ways, Advoz embodies the initial reasons why I became interested in mediation. I hope that my time here will help me gain further insight and experience in the fields Advoz works within. I believe that I can only become more interested and passionate in mediation by being here!

Intern Stories: Meet Brelan Wilcher

Brelan Welcher
Brelan Wilcher, operations intern and Millersville University Social Work major

Using practices centered around Mediation and Restorative Justice, Advoz centers around healing the harm caused within the community. In one way, it aims to achieve this by serving as a bridge that two or more individuals can cross to resolve conflicts through their mediation programs. The organization also partners with the Juvenile Justice System to speak with individuals who have caused harm to the community and help them take steps to make things right.

Having the opportunity to intern at Advoz has allowed me to grow in several significant ways. I have learned the importance of validating the thoughts and feelings of others. By attending the trainings as an intern, I learned the organization’s Mediation and Restorative Justice curriculum and how to utilize Zoom and other resources to support such training. I have learned my strengths and weaknesses and what those look like when working together on a team. Initially, when I applied to intern, I assumed that I would only learn how to develop some skills related to my major in social work. Instead, the skills that I have developed here have transformed how I interact with people, those I work with and those in my personal life, and perhaps most of all, my values have changed to align with Advoz’s philosophy.

Working Upstream to Undo “Criminal Minds”

By Chris Fitz

“Matthew” was only 13 years old. But this wasn’t his first run-in with the law. In our meeting, he fluently relayed the ways that adults in his neighborhood called the police about him—and how those complaints added up. He used terms like “complaint,” “allegation” and “charges.” A sort of “criminal minds,” to borrow the hit TV series title, has infected this boy—and the world around him—without his permission. Growing up White on my family’s farm, I had the privilege of never personally facing those terms. But in this introductory restorative session, Matthew, a young, bright African American telling his story about a trespass-turned-probation, reminded me of why we do what we do at Advoz—to change the way our community handles conflict.

Nearly two-thirds of the referrals for Advoz’s juvenile restorative justice services are for young people of color, generally African American or Latino/a/x. Those young people, like Matthew, often already have a bruising exposure to law enforcement and the legal system. Research shows that this exposure—and often traumatic experiences resulting from it—could hinder their health, education, employment and income for life. And likelihood in Lancaster County for our youth of color to experience the legal system is more than 200% compared to their White counterparts. This is why Advoz is working with community partners to chart a new path.

Police-Community Relations: Two police officers speaking to two community members.

Conflict is natural, and yet, how it unfolds and creates harm is something we can change. Advoz’s restorative justice program provides an opportunity to address harm after it happens. Our mediation and training programs work further “upstream,” to address conflict before it creates undue harm and becomes “crime.” Advoz recently began involvement in the Crisis Intervention Training for police in Lancaster County, clarifying for officers how referring disputing parties to Mediation benefits our community in the short term and the long run. We’ve now met with more than five police departments exploring how they can avert unnecessary criminalization and create win-win’s for conflicting parties and the wider community.

But “Matthew” also caused harm. And face-to-face, I recently facilitated a conversation between him and the property owner he had scared in that illicit trespass with his friends. He was able to apologize and hear the fear and damage he caused. And the property owner was able to understand Matthew’s situation and see how it was becoming a learning opportunity. Afterward, the owner—who also knew Matthew— sent us this note, shared by permission:

“Programs like this are the reason I chose to file the report. I was hoping there would be some type of intervention that resulted in the youth receiving help and encouraging better choices in the future. Thank you for involving me.”

This person harmed—and healed—is thanking you too. Each of you who supports this work is helping us handle conflict differently, restoratively and collaboratively rather than punitively. And that support is helping us to go beyond this already powerful paradigm, to work upstream with the partners in our community’s systems, to de-criminalize hearts and minds, in and outside of the justice system. Step by step, we are working toward a world in which Matthew’s children and the next generation won’t imagine themselves as teenage criminal candidates, but as fellow facilitators, healers and leaders of a mind-full community.

Represent! The Power of Stepping into Harm as a “Victim Representative”

By Krista Rittenhouse

Consider this question:

What are the odds of success for a young man of 16, who already has a record, dark skin, is in a single-parent home, and has already experienced prison? We can agree, and research shows that he has an uphill battle.

One thing we know about adolescent development is that youth need spaces where they “belong” and can feel competent. Many times, the aftermath of an offense leads to shame and punishment. But what if that offense could instead result in an opportunity to accomplish needs for belonging and competency? Restorative Victim-Offender Conferencing has that potential. However, when a harmed party chooses not to participate in that dialogue, it can halt that opportunity. Advoz is now extending that dialogue and restoring these otherwise lost opportunities in a creative way.

Passing the "hope" talking piece

Recently, I met with the young man I described above. I will call him José. He was ready to take responsibility for the incident and to making things right through dialogue. But as commonly happens, the harmed party never responded to Advoz outreach.

Instead of ending the process, we invited José and his parent to meet with a community member as a ‘victim representative,’ who I will call Damien, to discuss ‘making things right.’ As it turns out Damien had a personal connection to José’s grandfather. Damien became misty-eyed as he told stories of the Grandpa’s mentorship and positive work in his community. José heard from a stranger that he belongs to a family where men have been positive, caring leaders in his neighborhood. José heard from a stranger that he has the potential to live into that legacy.

As this already powerful conversation was winding down, Damien mentioned working with community programs for younger youth. Almost as an aside, Damien asked if José might consider coming to speak with those youth about positive decision making. José agreed, already imagining how speaking for younger youth builds his own competency as a young man.

Smiling young man surrounded by adults sitting in chairs giving encouraging smiles.

Since 2020, Advoz has been implementing this practice of a Victim Representative, inviting community members to speak about harm and increase accountability when the person(s) actually victimized do not participate. José is one of the 15 youth who have participated. More often than not, the sessions result in uncanny connections made between the representatives and the offending persons/youth and their families, like what happened between José and Damien.

Thanks to a grant from the Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation and other community supporters, Advoz has been able to add training for facilitators and community members to make this new step a reality. And we invite you to be part. Might you be called to enhance accountability and support for young people who have caused harm and want to make things right? Reach out to us at http://advoz.org/volunteer or email Krista@advoz.org.

On Collaboration

In the following post, I will explore what I learned about collaboration while creating the last two infographics in partnership with friends and Chris Fitz. This is the sequel to last week’s blog post and the final in a series covering a new set of infographics. These infographics were designed to provide information on and compare and contrast zero tolerance and restorative methods of discipline within an educational context (see part one on shame here: https://advoz.org/news/on-creating-dialogue-about-exclusionary-discipline-in-education/). The infographics covering restorative justice in schools and ways to get involved with Advoz are available for download at the end of this post.

Infographic depicting the benefits of using restorative methods of conflict management in schools. Benefits include providing an alternative to exclusion, giving students a voice, fostering community, positive school climates, safety, and disrupting the cycle of repeat offenses.
Restorative Justice in Schools

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was entirely unfamiliar with graphic design and writing infographic text for a broad audience going into this project. In other words, I did not really know what I was getting myself into. After several hours of drafting the text, finding stats, and obsessing over font and image alignment, I realized that this project was not something that I could do alone. They always say that two heads are better than one. In this case, it was four+ heads! To produce a meaningful and helpful product, I would need help and feedback from friends and experts in all things Restorative Justice and Advoz. Indeed, most of the creative process consisted of the virtual collaboration between me, my dear friends, Chris Fitz, and the professor who assigned the solution project. So, it should come as no surprise that the second thing I learned from creating these infographics was there is power in collaboration.

Constructive criticism and collaboration are potent tools in any creative process. Each time I shared a draft with one of my collaborators, I thought that it was perfect. Each time, they pointed out something that I had missed, like a stray comma or unaligned text. More significantly, they shared their perception of the infographics, how they received them and how the text and images would make them feel like an audience member. This was the most crucial feedback in my perspective for several reasons. First, my perception of the infographics as an author will always be different from that of the audience. Second, in creating these infographics, I became a representative of Advoz; so, I wanted to accurately portray their mission and vision and Restorative Justice and practices. That also meant not offending their partners, such as police and school staff. Third, it allowed me to identify areas that I may have been evoking an emotion or feeling, such as shame, that could turn audiences off the message.

Infographic describing Advoz's mission and vision, and ways to get involved as a volunteer facilitator or teacher. Restorative justice and mediation extends beyond schools.
Restorative Justice: How Can You Get Involved in Lancaster?

Let’s look to a moment of collaboration during the creative process. Specifically, one piece of feedback I received from Chris Fitz. In the “Restorative Justice in Schools” infographic, the subheading “Positive School Climates Promote Safety” was initially titled “Promoting a Positive School Environment.” Chris shared that the language I chose was too “touchy-feely” and may turn parents, teachers, and police for whom students’ safety is the primary concern. Indeed, one of the primary reasons people are skeptical of restorative programs in schools is the worry that it is too soft on students and that they will not learn discipline without consequences. This was a point that I had not considered at the time. As a student, I found data pointing to the positive impact of RJ on school climate and teacher satisfaction extremely compelling. Of course, I wanted to highlight the data as one of the benefits of using restorative methods in schools.

However, collaborating with Chris made me consider different perspectives of what school discipline should accomplish. Also, to build off of last week’s topic, stepping into another party’s shoes forced me to consider what their emotional response could be. In this case, I imagined parents rolling their eyes or feeling concerned for their student’s safety amidst a turbulent time. That is the power of collaboration. One small piece of feedback pushed me to explore other’s perceptions of and responses to the infographics and the topic of school discipline and safety as a whole. Ultimately, I found a way to combine the overwhelming data on the positive impact of RJ on school climate and school safety. In turn, the final product better represented Advoz’s mission, restorative programs, and the benefits of a restorative approach in schools. It also became more persuasive to parties who may be on the fence.

To close, I have reflected a lot on collaboration and feedback in creating this post. When I was a kid, the importance of working together was always emphasized in the way classes were structured. We were assigned worksheets, art pieces, projects to do as a kid. We were taught to listen, communicate, share tools and ideas, and give and receive feedback in those activities. We learned to consider snd value other people’s perspectives. More than that, we came to realize that by working together, the final product might be different than one initially imagined, but the process was more manageable. And maybe, the product was even better than initially imagined. I am sure many of you had similar experiences as a child. Unfortunately, I think the value of working together–collaborating– is something we can forget about as adults. Or at least I did after a long year of being stuck inside, working alone. Collaboration with my partners and Chris reminded me that many minds are better than one and that there is always room to improve. Overall, the lesson in this post is that anything is possible if you work with others, consider alternative perspectives, take feedback, and give yourself space to make mistakes and improve.

On Creating Dialogue about Exclusionary Discipline in Education

Before I share what I learned while creating Zero Tolerance and Restorative Justice (RJ) in education for Advoz, allow me to introduce myself briefly. My name is Catherine Wise. I am a college student studying neuroscience and Spanish at the Texas Christian University located in Fort Worth, Texas.

Early this spring, I reached out to the incredible staff at Advoz, asking what I could do to promote the mission and vision while achieving my goal of educating the Lancaster community. After some conversation, we decided on a series of infographics designed to start an open and honest dialogue about zero tolerance and the potential harm of the overuse of exclusionary discipline within the community. In the same series, we wanted to provide resources about using restorative methods of conflict management in schools and promote ways individuals can get involved with the process through training. Two of the four infographics (i.e., those on zero tolerance) are available for download at the end of this blog post.

Infographic explaining Zero Tolerance in Education. The history, how it is used, and the disciplinary actions it entails.
Infographic I: Zero Tolerance Discipline in Education, A One Size Fits All Approach to Discipline

In earnest, I was entirely unfamiliar with the processes of graphic design, social media, and writing infographic text for a broad audience going into this project. With the help of Chris Fitz, I was able to learn some of the necessary skills on the fly. In a series of two blog posts, I will share with you some things I learned along the way.

First, I learned how powerful shame can be and to avoid unnecessarily evoking it when discussing complex topics. Although I study psychology, I had never honestly thought about how powerful shame can be. Working on this project with Advoz staff gave me space and time to learn that evoking shame, be that intentional or not, can cause people to put up their defenses and stop engaging with information. More importantly, shame hinders conversation.

When I showed him my first drafts, Chris Fitz highlighted several areas where he thought I was using “shame language” or “shame iconography.” For instance, under the “Disciplinary Action” subtitle (see left image, panel three), I had initially used an icon of a teacher scolding a student and language that assigned blame to the school faculty for using exclusionary discipline (e.g., teachers and Student Resource Officers). Chris shared with me that this could make their partners–teachers, administrators, and police– feel shame for using exclusionary discipline or not understanding the gravity of its overuse. This is the opposite effect of what I wanted to achieve.

Infographic explaining zero tolerance discipline in education, providing statistics that beg the question: is it working for our students?
Infographic II: Zero Tolerance, Is it working for Our Students?

As an individual who reads and writes scientific literature, I am used to synthesizing evidence, coming to a conclusion, and not dwelling on the emotional response it might produce in my audience. In other words, it had not occurred to me that the language and imagery I used could create shame in school faculty who have suspended or expelled students. Further, I did not consider how this would be received by people who did not fully understand the impact of zero-tolerance policies on their students. I thought about shame a lot after my conversation with Chris. I had just learned that shame can motivate avoidance in a psychology course I was taking at the time. After some thought, I realized that evoking shame could cause teachers to stop engaging with the infographic. They may not have even reached the resources to change their impact on students’ lives.

At first, I was genuinely stumped on how to share that exclusionary discipline is overused without shaming the school faculty who administer it. I thought it would be impossible for me to find a way to share this information without blaming the parties involved. After a lot of thought and more conversation with Chris, I changed the language. I ended up with the image of an arrow pointing to a door because it captures the idea of exclusionary discipline without shaming the faculty required to use it.

Overall, I think that shame is something that we should all be mindful of when we enter a dialogue about complex subjects. While it is a natural part of taking accountability and growth as an individual, shame is also extremely uncomfortable to sit with, feel, and process. Shame makes the person experiencing the emotion want to put up their defenses and stop listening. So, next time you find that you need to have a difficult conversation with someone in your life, take some time to think about language, tone of voice, and gestures that could evoke shame. I can promise you that it is not always easy to recognize to start. Still, with practice, anyone can shift the conversation away from assigning blame to fostering understanding and accountability.

Adjusting to Move Forward: 2019-20 Annual Report

As we reflect on the last 18 months, we want to thank each of you for helping Advoz arrive in 2021 in a stronger position than we were before COVID-19 first hit.

Looking back to last year, right before the pandemic, we had experienced an organizational change with a new Executive Director and, on top of that, had moved from our old office to a new location in the Griest Building, overlooking Lancaster Square. Two of these challenges would have been enough for most organizations but to experience them during a pandemic made it even more challenging.

Looking back, we are thrilled to be able to highlight some of our achievements:

  • We achieved an internal goal of significantly increasing our Board makeup with diverse members (and you can “meet” them at the end of this publication).
  • We were able to significantly increase our training revenue, both for our volunteers for our mission, and for organizations needing specific help.
  • Conduct a number of successful mediations, victim-offender conferenced, trainings, and circle group discussions via Zoom. This was a revelation as our work is predicated on face-to-face experiences.
  • Improved partnerships with police and community groups for trainings, mediation, and conversations.

It is our hope that your support of our organization will continue to expand the mission and vision of Advoz, as we seek to transform conflict into conversation.

Advoz Board of Directions; as of June 2021

James Landis, President, Management Consultant

Lucille Connors, Vice President, CEO at Significa Benefit Services

John Huber, Secretary, Retired Attorney at Gibbel, Kraybill & Hess

John Bomberger, Treasurer, Retired CEO, Choice Books

Shuan Balani, Vistage Chair

Rob Bomberger, President at Benjamin Roberts, LTD.

Jennifer Creel, Operations Director, Leadership Lancaster

Jesus Cruz

Dr. Ling Dinse, Assistant Professor, Counseling and Social Work, Lancaster Bible College

John Eby, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Messiah College

Peter Faben, Attorney, Barley Synder

Marjorie Carkhuff Mattey, Retired Health Care Consultant

Ken Nissley, Retired Case Manager, IT Professional

Judge Jodie Richardson, Magisterial District Judge

Barbara Spiegelberg, Retired Real Estate Professional

Warren Taylor, Director of Development, Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology

Staff; as of June 2021

Chris Wenden, Executive Director

Chris Fitz, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Training

Krista Rittenhouse, Director of Restorative Justice

Ra’Nyah Oden, Case Manager, Mediation

Addrienne Whitfield, Office Manager

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.