“I like how this process gives everybody a voice.”
“Restorative practices are simple to implement, but can have dramatic outcomes. It works!”
“I came into this training knowing nothing about restorative practices. I’m leaving with a much better sense of how to communicate positively and effectively with my family, friends and co-workers.”
These were just some of the many reflections shared by thirty South End residents, Bester Community of Hope (BCOH) staff members, and community stakeholders as they completed a two-day training in Restorative Practices from the International Institute of Restorative Practices (IIRP) on Saturday, November 13th and Sunday, November 14th.
Restorative practices are an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities. The concept is based on the knowledge that human beings are hardwired to connect and that our thriving depends on strong and meaningful relationships. Restorative practices aim to develop community and to manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and restoring relationships.
“Where you have two or more people, you will eventually have conflict,” Henry McClendon, the IRRP facilitator, told the group gathered. Participants were encouraged to not internalize conflict as a bad thing or strive to eliminate it, instead, to see conflict as an opportunity for growth. “Growth comes out of conflict if we engage in conflict in a restorative way,” McClendon emphasized.
The weekend training provided concrete tools, discussion, and opportunities to practice engaging in conflict productively and, in turn, to foster deeper connection. One tool participants learned and practiced implementing was effectively using restorative circles. Circles can be beneficial when dealing with behavior problems, interpersonal conflict, and problem solving. The shape of the circle symbolizes community, inclusion, fairness, equality, safety, trust, and physically creates connection. Participants of the training facilitated small restorative circles based around four areas of concern identified by the group: community problems, barriers when working with families, problems in high schools, and problems encountered in afterschool programming. Through this practice, participants followed the formalize process that explored impact, responsibility that not only promoted a shared understanding but culminated in a shared resolution. Why? Because REATIONSHIPS MATTER. “Creating the space will change the dynamic,” was a phrase McClendon repeated multiple times during this weekend training.
Restorative Practices is not new to Hagerstown, as county schools and other agencies have laid the groundwork for introducing concepts and launching implementation strategies. As a fundamental priority outlined in their Logic Model, Bester Community of Hope provides on-going opportunities for community residents and stakeholders to expand their social capital through skill development and connection. According to the Restorative Justice Council, “Restorative practice can be used to build strong communities and to ensure that disputes and disagreements are dealt with positively and constructively. It can contribute to lower levels of crime and disorder and give communities an active role in resolving disputes where they do emerge.” This can ultimately lead to increased community ownership, decreased burden on overwhelmed formal systems, and a decrease in resident identified concerns of growing crime rates. Through completing this training, South High students, South End residents, neighborhood leaders, parents, teachers, Neighborhood 1st groups, school staff, service providers, and BCOH staff have committed to promoting restoration within the South End community for the long haul. “We believe in the people and we believe in the work,” Jen Younker, BCOH Director stated. “Over the last two days, this group of people have experienced the power of restoration and now possess the skills to take it back into their homes, community, and workplaces. We will continue to support these neighborhood leaders in helping the community and it’s residents THRIVE!”
This training opportunity was made possible through support from the Washington County Department of Human Services, the Alice Virginia & David W. Fletcher Foundation, and the Hagerstown Housing Authority. A special thank you to the HUB @ USMH for providing child care. For more information on Restorative Practices; please visit: https://www.iirp.edu/