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Think Global, Act Local: The Restorative Justice Way of Empowering Youth and Building Community

Photos By Hillary Ehlen

Shalom Fellow Readers!

“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” This quote from Frederick Douglas marvelously summarizes the transformative work Amanda Hostad does in Clay County.

In the fall 2016, I started volunteering for the Restorative Justice Program with Clay County: a community building program everyone should know about! We are grateful for Amanda’s vocation on the well-being of our youth! This is why I look up to her as a stellar woman I have tremendously learned from.


Alex Cyusa

Can you give us a historical background and timeline of Restorative Justice (RJ)? What is your mission?

Although the principle of restorative justice has been around for centuries, the Clay County Restorative Justice Program has been serving youth, victims and the community for close to 20 years. The program began with the Clay County Collaborative before switching to the Clay County Sheriff’s Department in 2000. Then in 2009, the program switched to the Clay County Attorney’s office where it remains today. Within the past year or so, the program has expanded to being in the schools as well. The concept of restorative justice is something that is applied differently, depending on the program or location. For our mission and us, restorative justice is an approach to crime that focuses on four main things:

1. Taking time to understand the victimization that occurs

2. Holds the youth accountable for their actions through a “circle” process

3. Develops agreements for youth to make things right with the victim(s) and the community

4. Supports the youth in moving forward.

Why was this community program Started? What communities do you serve? Who gets referred to RJ?

The program was started as an alternative approach to crime and hopes to reduce the amount of youth entering the criminal justice system. The Clay County Restorative Justice serves all communities in Clay County. Youth in Clay County get referred to the program due to them committing a criminal incident. This could include theft, assault, disorderly conduct, criminal damage to property, trespassing, etc. Upon successful completion of the program, the citation is dismissed.

How often do you meet?

A program staff typically meets with the youth and their parent once or twice to discuss the incident. At these meetings, a trained facilitator discusses the incident with the youth and parent focusing on what happened, who they affected and how are they going to move forward and learn from this. Once appropriate, and after determining affected parties’ interest in participating in the program, the youth moves forward to a “circle” process with either the victim(s)/affected parties or community members. Here is where the youth is held accountable by others and develops an agreement to make things right with the victim(s) and the community. In 2018, the program worked with over 160 youth.

npschmidt final 09614What activities does the program refer youth to in the community?

As part of their agreement, youth are often assigned to give back to their community. We have connected youth to volunteer work at local food banks, homeless shelters, nursing homes, churches and several other places. Our youth have also helped neighbors in need with shoveling during the long FM winter, sandbagging for the flood, raking leaves, cooking meals and other household tasks. Kids are often referred to join a school activity or meet with a school counselor. In the summer months, the program may refer kids to the Moorhead Police Department summer youth program and other local summer camps/activities.

How can the community help support the program?

Anyone can consider volunteering with the program as a community member upon completion of an application, interview and background check. We currently have around 15 volunteers that put in over 200 hours in 2018. For more information on volunteering, you can check out our program website or Facebook page by searching Clay County Restorative Justice.

Who are your biggest community partners when running the RJ program? 

Our biggest community partners are the Clay County Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, school resource officers and juvenile probation. We also work closely and take referrals from parents and the community. Our funding sources are the State of Minnesota: Office of Justice Programs, the Clay County Collaborative and the Clay County Board of Commissioners. Without these community partners and funding sources, the program wouldn’t be possible. We also have a great group of community volunteers that help keep increasing referrals possible.

What activities do you enjoy doing in the FM summer?

I enjoy playing tennis in Island Park, going to a play at the FM Community Theater or grabbing a coffee at Moorhead’s Moxie Java. I am looking forward to the Red River Farmers Market and the Moorhead Farmers Market starting soon. I do have a little sister through Big Brother Big Sister and we enjoy going to River Arts in Memorial Park. I also will be a mentor for the Moorhead Police Department’s summer youth program where we take local youth on field trips once a week throughout the summer.

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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