Restorative Justice Comes to Douglas County

Lyle Seger and Lisa Larson spoke about the new Douglas County restorative justice program.  Lyle is a mediator and restorative justice facilitator for the Center for Conflict Resolution and a founder of the nonprofit Building Peace.  Lisa is a City Commissioner and works in conflict resolution and mediation. She is also affiliated with Building Peace. 

Restorative justice is a concept that emerged from indigenous communities in North America and New Zealand.  European settlers had a more narrow concept of justice that involved trial, conviction and punishment.  Restorative justice attempts to find a more satisfying approach to address the harm done in a crime.  The goal is to identify satisfactory retribution, resolve conflict, and promote healing.   

Started in 2020, the restorative justice program in Douglas County has a staff of five mediators who work with lawyers, court representatives, crime victims, perpetrators, and community members impacted by a crime. 

The District Attorney makes the determination of a case’s eligibility for restorative justice.  It is a voluntary process and is available for less serious offenses and younger offenders.  Perpetrators are required to address the harm done face to face with victims and stakeholders in the larger community.  Completion of the process results in expunging of the criminal record.

Restorative justice reduces the number of young people going to jail.  The recidivism rate is under 50 per cent, and some 70 per cent of victims are satisfied with the process.  The new program is primarily funded by grants. 

At the end of the day, restorative justice focuses on how a crime impacts on the victim and the community.  The process works to promote healing, build peaceful relationships, and a stronger and more just community.

Scott Thellman, Ag Entrepreneur

Scott Thellman, a first generation farmer, tells the story of how he started Juniper Hills Farms in 2006. His business savvy, interest in distribution systems, and passion for agriculture have meshed in this new enterprise.

It all began when Scott’s family moved to the country north of Lawrence in 1999. He began helping the man who rented the property with production work. 

Even in high school, Thellman began to purchase equipment to cut and bale hay.  Loving the work and realizing that he could make money, he bought more and better equipment with a youth loan he received from a USDA program. Even before graduating from high school, he expanded his operation to include more hay land and specialty crops.

After trying out several different university ag programs, Thellman graduated in 2014 with a degree in agri-business, economics, agronomy, and leadership.   About that time, he used what he was learning about food aggregation and local food distribution systems to leverage his investment in a large refrigerated truck by distributing for other producers as well as for himself. 

Growth was  steady until COVID hit.  At that point, Spellman adapted to the closing of his traditional markets in restaurants, schools, and grocery stores by creating Sunflower Provisions, doing pick up and deliver in and around Lawrence and expanding to serve more producers.

What lies ahead? For one thing, Juniper Hills will soon establish an industrial kitchen in North Lawrence. Spellman envisions producing salsa and marinara sauce using vegetables that might otherwise be wasted. He would also like to add to production of food-grade corn and soybeans.

Spellman will continue to experiment with ways to vertically integrate his business, a slow and steady growth pattern he believes is destined for success.

Fighting Hunger and Food Insecurity

Ryan Bowersox, Director of Marketing and Outreach for Just Food, explains how the agency has expanded its programs in Douglas County beyond the food bank itself. 

Just Food serves 150-300 families each day, providing access to nutritious food while maintaining a sense of dignity for all.  The organization seeks to address the root causes of hunger and to cultivate self-sufficiency .  Just Food also works to establish a culture of stewardship, sustainability, transparency, diversity and equity.  Elizabeth Keever is Executive Director and is responsible for operations, working with an advisory board. 

Program elements consist of food recovery,  pantry shopping and mobile food distribution for rural areas of the county as well as a popular diaper bank.  The newly remodeled main facility hosts educational classes like Just Cook, which provides instruction in food preparation and nutrition.  Kitchen Works prepares people for careers in food service, and Just Grow teaches gardening techniques and makes garden plots available. 

Volunteers play a critical role by working in the food pantry, in the warehouse, as drivers and as instructors.  Volunteers also assist in putting on special food and fund raising events. 

Just Food collaborates with at least 19 agencies to deliver services. Partners include Bert Nash, the Lawrence Community Shelter, the Humane Society, the Willow Domestic Violence Center, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the Lawrence school system, the University of Kansas, and Haskell University. 

The pandemic has contributed to a huge increase in hunger in the county. Eligibility requirements for service are minimal, and half of the people served are Caucasian. In 2020, 22,433 people were served, almost 2,000 home deliveries were made, 653,473 pounds of food was recovered,  57,600 diapers were distributed, 28 coaching sessions were conducted, and 11,901 volunteer hours were logged. 

George Washington Carver Has Ties to Kansas

Most Kansans do not realize the connection that George Washington Carver has to the state.  Rotarian Jim Peters explained that Carver not only attended school in Kansas but also homesteaded here early in his life.

A scientist, inventor, artist, and musician, Carver was born a slave around 1864 in Missouri on the farm of Moses and Susan Carver, a couple who were among the first settlers in the area.  Carvers were unionists and anti-slavery.  When the Civil War ended, the Carvers rescued George and his half-brother  and raised them as their own children. 

Because he was sickly, Susan kept George away from heavy outdoor work and taught him to help with  household chores.  Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and performing other domestic tasks turned out to be the way that Carver earned his way through school.  As early as age 10, he walked to the town of Neosho, Missouri, to attend the only school available to Black children, rooming there with Mariah Watkins, herself a former slave, in exchange for doing domestic chores.

When the talented boy needed a better school, he moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, 75 miles away and once again cooked and cleaned for wealthy families in order to stay support himself.  During that time, Carver witnessed a lynching, upsetting him so much that he left the city.  Eventually, he earned a high school diploma in  Minneapolis, KS.

When Carver was denied admission to a college in Kansas City because of race, he decided to take advantage of the Homestead Act and try farming, joining a friend to start the town of Beeler in central Kansas.  He soon realized that farming was not what he wanted to do, so he went to Iowa to attend college again, enrolling at Simpson in Indianola where he studied art.  Carver studied agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, IA, again supporting himself with a laundry business.  He was the first Afro-American to earn a Masters degree in agriculture. 

Booker T. Washington recruited George to teach at Tuskegee University in 1896.  Carver spent the remainder of his life there, teaching, starting the agriculture department at the school, and inventing numerous items to improve farm production processes.

Buy A Wreath – Make a Difference – Order Holiday wreaths & decorations now from Lawrence Central

Lawrence Central recently launched our annual fundraiser to help fund the work we do every year. As in year’s past, we will be selling wreaths and other holiday decorations from Lynch Creek Farms and in Lawrence Central’s partnership with them, we receive money back from every sale to help fund the service projects we do.  Some examples of our service activities include:

We want to continue to do this work and more with help from you and all you need to do is simply purchase holiday decorations. You can do this by talking to any of our members or there’s an even easier way – visit our Lynch Creek fundraising website, peruse what they have, and order yourself!  We’ve even set up an easy link:

http://bit.ly/lcrholiday21

If you’re not comfortable with ordering online we totally understand – you can also call Lynch Creek direct toll-free at 1-888-426-0781 and please Lawrence Central Rotary Fundraiser #1507453.

Lynch Creek is a family business that started in 1980, now transformed from selling a few flowers and vegetables at the local farmers’ market on the weekends, to a full-blown year-round business that ships throughout the United States.

We could go on about how great these wreaths are, but when we were at the Lawrence Rotary Club recently,  Jennifer Berquist stopped us and told us this,

“I purchased several Lynch Creek items as holiday gifts. Those who received the evergreen gifts were so pleased and impressed with the quality. It is a huge seller for me that the Lawrence Central Rotary Club receives part of the profits. I will definitely place another order this year!” – Jennifer Berquist – Lawrence, KS 

Lynch Creek Farms have been amazing to work with and they care about the groups that sell their wreaths and decorations. Here’s a video about the business.

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