Community

Abbotsford agency helps youth ‘repair the harm’

Tony deWaal with an award that Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association received – a certificate of recognition from the Ron Wiebe Restorative Justice Award program, presented by the Correctional Service of Canada. - Submitted photo
Tony deWaal with an award that Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association received – a certificate of recognition from the Ron Wiebe Restorative Justice Award program, presented by the Correctional Service of Canada.
— image credit: Submitted photo

An Abbotsford program is helping young people take responsibility for their behaviour and be part of the solution in repairing the harm, says its executive director.

Tony deWaal said Abbotsford Restorative Justice and Advocacy Association  (ARJAA) is playing a valuable role in the community.

“The goal of this program is to help youth turn a negative experience into a learning opportunity that can help change the course of their lives in a positive way.”

ARJAA receives files from the Abbotsford Police Department and the Abbotsford school district for youth ages 12 to 23 who are first-time offenders.

This year, the organization handled 160 referrals.

The youths are given an opportunity to share their story, take responsibility for what they have done, and be part of the solution.

“It is always hoped that this process is a learning experience that opens the youth’s eyes to see the impacts that their actions had on their victims,” deWaal said.

He gave the example of a teenage girl caught shoplifting. When she had her first meeting with ARJAA, she revealed that she was only a few months old when she had been placed in foster care.

Her mom was a drug addict, and her foster mom died of an illness.

DeWaal said police chose not to lay charges, recognizing there were underlying issues at play, and instead referred her to ARJAA.

The girl wrote an apology letter and completed 15 hours of community service. She also met with the business owner to explain her past and what led to the shoplifting.

In turn, the business owner was able to tell the girl how the incident impacted him/her, personally and corporately.

The teen then wrote a letter reflecting on what she had learned through the process of mediation and her community service. DeWaal said she now wants to keep volunteering.

“It could have been easy to write this girl off as another shoplifting teenager, but we need to remember that things are not always as they seem,” he said.

ARJAA also offers a mentoring program in which an individual, usually an adult, is paired with a youth for a year. The mentor then works alongside ARJAA staff to support the young person through the process of making amends.

“This process would have been a lot harder without a mentor,” said one youth who participated in the program. “I would have felt alone in the process, without anyone to talk to.”

ARJAA is currently receiving applications for mediators and mentors to take part in victim-offender mediation training starting in February. For more information, call 604-864-4846, visit arjaa.org or contact Julie Czeck at julie@arjaa.org.

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