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If you live in Ontario and saw Forgiven/Forgotten as part of Theatre of the Beat’s spring 2013 tour, you may have been inspired to rethink the way our communities respond to crime. We certainly hope this was the case, and want to follow up by letting you know about an event that is happening on November 12th – an opportunity to continue the conversation about how we can build healthier and safer communities together.

While Theatre of the Beat members Johnny, Ben and Leah tour the Maritimes with a remount of Forgiven/Forgotten alongside new cast members Sukhpreet Sangha and Megan Piercey Monafu, I (Kimberlee) am sitting this tour out in order to complete a Masters of Social Work internship with Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, which is the organization that originally commissioned Forgiven/Forgotten. Although I certainly miss being involved in such an exciting and important theatre project (I’m living vicariously through the troupe as I look at the pictures they post on social media) it has been an honor and privilege to work for an organization that lives out the values of Restorative Justice that the play highlights.

MCC’s Circles of Support and Accountability works to create safety for the whole community by developing and strengthening interpersonal relationships with people who have or are at risk of offending sexually. These relationships, created by a carefully chosen circle of staff, volunteers and a core member, are designed to be supportive and authentic while simultaneously holding people accountable for their patterns of behavior and choices in life. The result of this model, which MCCO has been engaged with for the past 20 years, is fewer victims of violent and sexual crimes. Circles of Support and Accountability makes a significant contribution to safer streets and communities through enhanced public safety and protection of Canadians – for example, evidence gathered indicates 83% reduction in recidivism for sexual offences, in comparison to matched groups of offenders who did not have this opportunity to be part of the circle model.  This program reduces risk in our communities, meaning fewer victims – the most important outcome and primary goal of Circles of Support and Accountability.

When Theatre of the Beat performs one of our plays, audiences usually applaud us for our efforts. Feedback on what we do means the world to us, as it lets us know that what we offer is of value to the communities we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, the Circles of Support and Accountability staff and volunteers who protect our communities (living out the real-life values of Forgiven/Forgotten) rarely receive the encouragement and congratulations that they deserve because it can be hard to talk about sexual offending. This is understandable – it’s not an easy topic! However, it is extremely important to show our support for programs such as Circles of Support and Accountability, especially as they struggle for funding to stay afloat.

Part of my role here at MCC has been helping to plan the 20th Anniversary celebration of the Circles of Support and Accountability program, which is taking place this November 12th, at 7pm. If you are interested in learning more about Circles of Support and Accountability and celebrating 20 years of safer communities with us, we’d love for you to join us! Our evening of celebration, reflection and visioning will begin at 7pm at the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario head offices at 50 Kent Avenue in Kitchener, Ontario. If you would like to come (and we hope you will) please RSVP to Laura VanderGriendt at lauravandergriendt@mennonitecc.on.ca or 519-745-8458 ext. 214

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