‘Peaceful communication’ workshop open to Nevada County community | TheUnion.com

‘Peaceful communication’ workshop open to Nevada County community

Joyce Banzhaf has seen death row inmates soften, jaded teenagers rush in to support one another and angry couples experience dramatic shifts for the better in their relationships.

In fact, as a facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Project at age 75, she says it's the most rewarding work she's ever done.

Banzhaf will be facilitating a three-day "basic workshop" on community building through peaceful communication Sept. 22-24 in Nevada City.

"I've done this for 12 years and I'm still changed by each workshop," she said. "It's profound to see people become more comfortable within themselves."

The roots of the Alternatives to Violence Project, also known as AVP, started in 1975 at New York's Green Haven Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. In response to the Attica Prison uprising of 1971, inmates at Green Haven asked a group of nearby Quakers for help in teaching young inmates how to nonviolently resolve conflicts. Word of its success quickly spread, and before long workshops were springing up in federal and state prisons throughout the United States.

While the initial program was founded by Quakers, today AVP's participants and trainers include people from all religions, races, sexual identities and walks of life.

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'Respect & caring for self, others'

With a simple base philosophy of "respect and caring for self and others," workshops are now offered through an international network of local chapters in community centers, businesses, churches, schools, prisons, social service agencies, youth organizations, women's shelters and more. Designed to reduce violence through learning about communication, conflict resolution and communication, AVP is a nonprofit, volunteer-run organization.

"A key component to AVP is that it is entirely run by volunteers and there is no top-down enforcement arm, no leaders," said Banzhaf. "That's an unusual model. In our culture, often the enforcement arm is violence. At each workshop, the team decides together what they will do. We don't have a belief system. There are no leading questions, we just speak about what's meaningful."

In 2016, AVP California councils organized more 400 workshops in 26 prisons and jails around the state, with an estimated 6,400 participants. Always a voluntary program, anyone — including inmates who learn to apply AVP principles to their own lives — can be trained as a facilitator. A study at the Delaware Correctional Center between 1993 and 2001 showed a marked reduction in recidivism among AVP participants as compared to their fellow inmates.

"It's amazing that we're in 26 prisons now in California — but there are still many others that want us," said Banzhaf. "We don't go in until we have enough people. Training more facilitators would help the program continue to grow."

"I was a life-term prisoner from 1990 through 2014," said Eldra Jackson, III, who now lives in Sacramento. "Along my path, AVP discovered me and was a huge part of the transformation process leading me to a new way of approaching my relationship with self and others. I was first introduced to the program over seven years ago on the inside and have since continued to participate in community workshops since paroling. AVP has become more of a lifestyle for me rather than a mere program — without the dedication of so many wonderful volunteers it would not be possible."

'Best way to reach, support students'

Banzhaf is quick to emphasize that AVP's reach beyond prison walls has been profound. In 2016, there were an estimated 70 workshops in California communities alone, boasting more than 600 participants.

AVP offers "Basic," "Advanced" and "Training-for Facilitator Workshops," which are typically a fast-paced series of interactive exercises, discussions, games, humor and role plays. Workshops use the shared experience of participants, and, according to the website, uses "interactive exercises, games and role-plays to examine the ways in which we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behavior and violence."

The fundamental objectives are "to encourage individuals to take responsibility for themselves and the consequences of their behavior, to serve as one another's community, and to find options other than fight or flight when faced with conflict."

Terrie Brodie, a counselor at Silver Springs High School in Grass Valley, said there have been AVP workshops at her school for the past three years. She now says she would like to bring them into all area schools. Some of her students will become facilitators for this year's workshops.

"I have been around a really long time and have done many trainings and programs — this is the best way to reach and support our students — for suicide prevention, anger management, peer connection, self-awareness, communication and for leadership," said Brodie. "Most of the students love the experience and they become AVP's best promoters. They learn tolerance, find out they are not alone, gain confidence and learn new skills."

"The teens at Silver Springs have become our best advocates," echoed Banzhaf. "It's wonderful to see them start loving each other and making public amends for things they've said and done.

"It's rewarding to see people realize how much good they have in themselves, to feel a real connection and to see that they have many choices and tools for resolving conflict. I want to do this as long as I'm breathing."

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Community Building through Peaceful Communication

A basic workshop hosted by members of the Alternatives to Violence Project

WHEN: Three days, Sept. 22-24; Sept. 22: 6 to 9 p.m.; Sept. 23 and 24: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

COST: Donations between $25 and $150, scholarships also freely given.

REGISTRATION: Contact Joyce Banzhaf at JoyceBanzhaf@yahoo.com.

INFO: Visit http://www.AVPCalifornia.org.

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