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A Founding Circle Keepers' Reflection (4 years after!)

Restorative Justice was such an important aspect of my high school experience it shaped the way that I thought about conflicts and repairing harm that was done to my high school community. Restorative justice helped me to think differently about restoring relationships and fostering a sense of community within the Harvest Collegiate environment. Restorative Justice helps us move away from punitive measures and invites us to think of harm and restoration as actions that have ripple effects. Restorative justice helps us look at how we communicate with each other. This approach opens communication between staff, students, and administrators. It also brings together those affected by the impact of a certain set of actions, finds common ground, and develops solutions that benefit all parties involved. This practice helps us to bring out the best in each other and celebrate our individual and collective strengths. It also helps us to make mindful decisions, when we have created harm in our community this approach helps us align with our personal and collective values of empathy. 

As a social work major, it's my nature to create a culture of accountability. Rooted in the foundational principles of social work, my commitment extends to cultivating environments where individuals are encouraged and supported to take responsibility for their actions. I must encourage my client to take an introspective look at their lives. There are embedded restorative justice practices in individual and group interventions. As a social worker, my work promotes using circles as a way to promote and facilitate dialogue and resolution amongst clients, families, and communities. As a person who emphasizes community and relationship building there have been many instances in my own life where restorative justice has been a helpful tool for me to use. Restorative justice practices have assisted me in navigating my friendships. When conflicts arise amongst my friends I find myself using tactics from learning about restorative justice practices. I find myself taking into consideration all perspectives and assisting the people around me in understanding how their actions affect everyone around them. 

During the last semester, I completed an internship at Family Services at CVSS (Center for Victim Safety and Support) as a part of my pursuit of a Bachelor in Social Work (BSW) degree. As the internship progressed, especially within the last month, interpersonal relationships and various occurrences within the organization assumed a tumultuous nature. Within this period, interns felt a strain in their environment and there was a question whether there was room at this organization to facilitate our learning and personal development. Though, interns were driven by the desire for an authentic and reflective experience mirroring the challenges inherent in client work we all encountered challenges at CVSS. The organization grappled with issues around communication, the provision of meaningful opportunities for intern growth, and the establishment of a safe non-toxic environment conducive to the flourishing of all interns. My initial sentiments during the final month centered around the determination to persevere until the winter break, with a primary focus on fulfilling all of my hours. The atmosphere of gossip and boundary transgressions was concerning as it was not aligned with the expectations I had when starting the internship. 

In response to this toxic environment, I tried to implement my restorative justice skills. This was my attempt to recognize the importance of fostering genuine and transparent dialogue regarding accountability and environmental healing. I took the initiative to address the situation. I had two goals: one to rectify the situation and to try to make the remaining time there as pleasant as possible and to ensure that I derived the educational value that I craved from the internship. I advocated for myself and engaged with someone whom I perceived as an individual who was receptive to hearing the concerns and perspectives of me and the other interns. My goal for the dialogue was to create a safe and honest space for all the interns to air out the concerns that they had about the environment and I think that I was able to achieve just that. During the meeting, all participating interns were allowed to articulate their apprehensions about the toxic environment. Each intern's expression was acknowledged and attentively considered. Effectively, the collective engagement in the meeting facilitated the establishment of a restorative justice circle, wherein the various concerns and experiences were expressed and addressed in a manner aimed at reconciling and offering a resolution. 

Reflecting upon this meeting, I draw parallels to my prior experiences working with my peers during my high school years. In that context, I frequently found myself in situations where I either assumed accountability for my behavior or took on the responsibility of holding others accountable. My engagement with restorative justice practice allows me to occupy various positions around the restorative justice table, providing me with a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics involved. The significance of participating in these conversations is crucial and requires all parties involved to be open and honest in dialogue. 

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