An update from the director
An interview with Howard Zehr appears in the May edition of Anabaptist World. In that interview, Zehr is asked what ‘restorative justice’ is, a term he coined in the early 1980s. He describes it as “a relational approach to justice that focuses on repair of harm. And to the extent possible, those affected by, or involved in, that harm should be actively engaged in that process.” Zehr says he did not create the approach but was interested in pulling together ideas around the practices involved in a coherent framework. Some of those practices were happening right here in south central Kansas in Harvey and Reno counties. In fact, they had been happening here for almost 10 years by the time Zehr coined the term!
This year OVM has been celebrating 50 years of carrying our mission forward:
Providing services to reconcile and transform relationships of those impacted by conflict, trauma, crime and incarceration in our local communities.
2023 highlights included -
It started with visiting men inside the Hutchinson Correctional Facility as the M-2 program – 50 years of community people choosing to go inside those walls. Mr. Bayles, chaplain at the time, recently told me before Harold Regier and others approached him to do this, there were no volunteers going into the facility. He said he “thought the walls were gonna fall down” when he took the idea to his superiors to try to make it happen! Today, according to Chaplain Sue Stoecklein, there are 350-400 active volunteers offering humanizing opportunities for the men who are residents in that facility; about 50 of those volunteers participate in M-2. It is this legacy that we have been honoring and all who have participated in it.
Over the years, other programs have come and gone – those have been highlighted and celebrated this year as well. Current programs supporting our mission include –
Finally, the beautiful thing about an anniversary celebration is that it’s not an end but rather a moment in time of an unfolding story. And OVM’s story continues to unfold through these initiatives –
Each individual who is served through OVM receives the opportunity to gain back dignity, to set a new course of belief and behavior, and to contribute positively to their community. Each volunteer who participates in an OVM program contributes to their community, encourages others’ health and dignity, and receives much more than what is given!
As this year nears its close and the season of giving sets in, please support OVM! We work hard to run a financially lean operation. Your contributions support staff salaries and the programs that do all that is noted above. This year we have celebrated the generosity of individuals, churches, foundations and businesses that have provided OVM resourcing in our communities for 50 years. Let’s keep it going for another 50! Therefore, we need your support today. We accept automatic (fix it and forget it!) monthly contributions through PayPal, one time gifts by check/cash or PayPal, and distributions in the form of QCDs or DAFs. And remember OVM in your will. If you have questions about any of this, please reach out and let’s set up a time for coffee.
Thank you for being part of this community centered in hope and restorative justice.
Todd Lehman, Executive Director
Meet OVM’s newest staff member!
Director for Prison Ministries Programming
Restorative Justice Associate
I am originally from the Seattle area but have considered Wichita home since moving here in 2011. I just graduated from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary with my MDiv and I am thrilled to join the OVM team as part of both Prison Ministries and Community Justice Programs.
I have long been interested in justice system work, rooted in my experience leading arts programs for adjudicated youth in Wichita and more recently working with adult reentry programs in Iowa and Washington State. I have a passion for cultivating healthy communities and often think that better conflict skills could heal the world. The opportunity to learn from OVM’s long history of practicing restorative justice in this region feels like a real gift to me.
When I am not working, I try to get outside as much as possible, walking, biking, and working in my yard. I love cooking, making art, learning new things, and getting to the heart of matters.
If you want to get involved in Prison Ministries (M-2, Prison Arts), I’d love to hear from you!
Kenzie can be reached via email@example.com or (316) 281-4721.
Truancy Program Stories
from Kathy Neufeld Dunn, Director – Community Justice Program
Truancy rates have been very high since 2020. Students ages 12-15, who are our focus, continue to struggle with anxiety, depression, bullying, and family challenges, among others.
Each Truancy Neighborhood Accountability Board meeting (NAB) has its own focus addressing the specific needs of each family and their child. Trained Truancy NAB volunteers listen carefully to help all parties explore the unique challenges of the truant student and their parent(s), as well as possible responses to these needs. A school representative at the table weighs in, saying which ideas are workable within the educational setting and which are not.
When a Truancy NAB is successful, all parties leave with more hope, as well as a copy of a written agreement that they are committed to as a path toward helping the student return to regular class attendance. Some families and their kids commit to getting into therapy. Others ask for a different class schedule. Still others ask that the school make special provisions for avoiding anxiety triggers. Others brainstorm ways to help the child get up on time after mom has gone to her early shift. Truancy NAB agreements are as unique as the families and their life experiences.
Many families say they have tried to work with school officials to solve their issues. But somehow having all parties together, as well as trained volunteers and a facilitator, allows for more careful listening and more creative brainstorming. So far, every Truancy NAB has ended in a workable agreement. A couple of students have again struggled with truancy this semester. Most have continued to work with the school and their parent(s) to follow their written agreement and are no longer truant.
...Having all parties together, as well as trained volunteers and a facilitator, allows for more careful listening and more creative brainstorming. So far, every Truancy NAB has ended in a workable agreement.
Jordan (name changed for confidentiality) had been missing lots of class time due to a rare genetic disorder, he said. His mom said during her intake interview that she had tried to talk with various people at school. She talked about how much his legs were in pain on certain days in a school with many stairs, "But they won't give him a key to use the (teachers') elevator. It's so discouraging for both of us."
In this Truancy NAB, the school representative was sympathetic to the family's needs and said immediately, "Of course your son can use the elevator key. Please provide a doctor's note with his diagnosis. At the same time, we need Jordan to attend class as much as he can,” and the school counselor clarified how many excused absences and unexcused absences were allowed by law before a student became legally truant. Mom seemed surprised. She thought a doctor's note made everything okay. She agreed that with the accessibility issue addressed, Jordan would be able to attend class most days. This student is no longer truant. The solution seemed simple in this instance, but relationships had become so fraught, seemingly everyone was having trouble listening to each other. The Truancy NAB gave Jordan and everyone a fresh start.
This is restorative justice in action. We're grateful to be part of helping students, parents and school representatives talk in healthy, productive ways together, so truancy issues are resolved.
If you would like to volunteer to be part of this work, please contact Kathy via firstname.lastname@example.org or
*Editor’s note: Kansas statutes provide that a student is declared truant if they are absent without excuse for a “significant portion” of the school day, for three consecutive days, or five days in a semester, or seven days in a school year. Each board of education designates employees at schools who are responsible for determining whether students’ reasons for absence are valid. Truant families are often reported to the county or district attorney, and then some cases are referred to OVM.
6:30 - 8:00 PM
MCC Central States
121 E. 30th St.
North Newton, KS
Join MCC and OVM
Kick off the holiday season by giving back with an evening of service at the Mennonite Central Committee location in North Newton on Giving Tuesday!
Bring new dark colored hand towels with you to pack hygiene kits; tie comforters; write cards to those who are incarcerated and enjoy delicious snacks.
MCC and OVM alumni, families and individuals of all ages are welcome to make this a fun community service event!
Prisoner Care Kits
Another MCC and OVM Collaboration
On September 26, MCC and OVM delivered about 250 prisoner care kits to Hutchinson Correctional Facility. The kits contain some basic donated clothing and hygiene items, and are intended primarily for prison residents considered indigent or who recently transferred from another facility without supplies.
Thank you if you donated items for these kits. We hope that these items demonstrate our love and compassion for all, by reminding the residents that they and their needs are not forgotten.
OVM History Timeline
One way we celebrated our history this year was by creating a timeline to highlight many happenings and staff members from OVM’s first 50 years. The timeline was on display at the 50th Anniversary Celebration, and now it lives in the hallway at our offices.
We do not expect you to be able to read this thumbnail image of it. Instead, please come by the offices sometime to see it life-size. What can you learn, or what other OVM stories and events do you have to share with us?
More 2023 Snapshots
Click to enlarge images from the United Way Chili Cook-off; the 50th Anniversary Celebration; and staff at the Restorative Kansas conference.