FINDING PURPOSE AND SPIRIT IN RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Staff Writer

Annie and Irv Fellows of Troy have long sought to make a difference in the world. For more than 30 years, Irv and Annie worked for the government, attempting to bring their passion for helping people through that venue. “When I retired, Annie and I made a commitment that we would seek other ways to help people in need,” Irv said. Then, about 4 years ago, Irv met Orleans County Restorative Justice Center’s Executive Director, Barbara Morrow during an effort to set up a Newport area warming shelter. “She asked me if I would like to be on a ‘Circles of Support and Accountability’, called CoSA for short. I initially had no idea what that was, but I found the concept challenging and well aligned with my spiritual principles. At first, I had little confidence that I could contribute anything…but as time went by, I realized my perspective and life experiences could be supportive. Annie saw that I was finding CoSAs rewarding, and she decided to do volunteer as well.”
A CoSA is a team of usually three volunteers who, with a trained facilitator, work with someone called a “core member” – a person reentering the community from incarceration – for a year. The team works with the person to figure out what problems they face and how they might address those problems. The team and the core member come up with a plan for the future and identify skills the core member has or could develop that will help them overcome present or future barriers. The CoSA group also acts as a source of accountability and a sounding board.
The Fellows said there are many rewards and frustrations to volunteering as a CoSA team member, but they say the rewards are worth it. “I’ve become aware of many bureaucratic barriers a person faces when they are trying to successfully reenter the local work environment,” Irv said. “For instance, a person needs to have their social security card to get a job. Seems like a simple thing – unless their card has been lost and they have no transportation. Obtaining a new copy of that card often involves seeking a copy of a long-misplaced birth certificate and a long bus ride to Montpelier. The lack of a driver’s license can also be a barrier. Without public transportation in the area, a person trying to get back on his or her feet often has to settle for a minimum wage job within walking distance. They often end up living on a financial knife’s edge, and even a small unexpected expense can make them vulnerable to frustration and depression – and the temptation to return to old ways.” (Read More in The Newport Daily Express Friday April 6)

Category: