With stories of violence flooding the headlines, topics of conflict resolution are permeating national and global discourse like never before. Thanks to groups like the Alternative to Violence Project, a nonprofit volunteer organization, people are taking action to help others resolve personal conflict without resorting to violence.
The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) was established by a group of Quakers at a New York state prison in 1975. It began by focusing on gang members and at-risk youth but has now expanded to include individuals of all backgrounds and occupations. AVP hosts workshops for various communities, businesses, churches, youth organizations, and anyone with the desire to deal with unresolved conflict in his or her life. It has broadened its clientele base outside of the United States and now hosts workshops worldwide in countries like Bolivia, Angola, Japan, and Guatemala.
The program is unique in that the facilitators let the members build skills and discover compassion within themselves rather than teach with an instructive and sententious mindset. “The workshops are not so touchy-feely; we prefer to focus more on cognitive learning,” AVP representative Pat Hardy stated.
Hardy is the president of AVP’s California division and is working toward expanding the program throughout Santa Barbara County and the rest of the Central Coast. Hardy, a Quaker herself, got involved with the program in 1991 at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc. “I was relatively new to being in town. I was busy running a bed and breakfast, and I was losing touch with my community and wanted to get involved,” Hardy said.
Hardy elaborated on her work with AVP: “We don’t expect members to say their position but rather explain who they are today.” Each member is given what Hardy described as an “adjective name” that takes the first initial of their first name and creates an adjective that is added to their first name. “This helps the members identify themselves by the name that their mother gave them, rather than their gang name, or the last name that inmates are constantly referred by in prisons,” Hardy said.
The Santa Barbara chapter currently has 25 facilitators and is developing quickly. According to Hardy, the group is on the hunt for a permanent location to host workshops. As of now, they are working out of the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria and the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
Lizzie Rodriguez is one of the facilitators for the Santa Barbara area. Rodriguez became involved with AVP after working with an affiliated group in Rwanda and in Nigeria, which was experiencing a lot of conflict between Muslim and Christian sects at the time. “This program is unique in that it truly believes in intervening and resolving conflicts before more devastation occurs,” Rodriguez said. “I was amazed how similar the groups in Nigeria were to the groups here; their goals were the same as many of the participants’ goals are here.”
The Santa Barbara chapter has had a lot of success thus far. Orlando, a 16-year-old who completed a series of AVP workshops, expressed his appreciation for the program. “I was waiting for trouble, hanging out on the streets, ignoring the curfew, and joining others who were up to no good,” Orlando said in a prepared statement. “We hear the consequences of gang life on family and hear real personal experiences,” he went on. “I have learned to be street smart and understand consequences. The AVP tools help me socialize comfortably with a wider group of people in Santa Barbara.”
AVP facilitates conflict resolution through a series of three hands-on workshops that concentrate on their tenets of “affirmation, cooperation, community building, and transforming power.” Moreover, facilitators help their members build self-confidence, instill communication skills, facilitate one-on-one discussions, teach the consequences of violence, and host other interactive exercises that help their clients deal with conflict. After the second workshop, members are trained to be facilitators and help expand the program to their own communities.
For more information on the Alternative to Violence Project, visit its website at www.avpcalifornia.org.