An Eastern Mennonite University alumnus named the 2018 Victim Advocate of the Year by the Allegheny County Juvenile Court (ACJC) and the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission (JCJC) says his undergraduate and graduate studies “profoundly” shaped him.
Aaron Erb, who earned his undergraduate degree in peacebuilding and development and a master’s degree in conflict transformation at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, received the awards during ceremonies in October and November.
Erb is the restorative justice coordinator at the Center for Victims in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In that capacity he coordinates a community mediation program and, with a coworker, provides victim-offender dialogue facilitation services to ACJC’s Victim Offender dialogue program. After receiving the ACJC award, he was nominated by ACJC assistant chief probation officer Kim Booth for the statewide award.
“It’s not possible for me to name all the ways EMU prepared and inspired me for this work,” Erb said.
In undergraduate studies, his program’s emphasis on the interdisciplines of philosophy, economics and international relations “helped prepare me for a job that requires openness to new experiences and understanding of the multitudinous factors affecting people engaged in the juvenile court system,” he said. Professors such as Gloria Rhodes and Carolyn Stauffer “demanded that I examine myself as a product of privilege even as they illuminated that my gifts and skills had a place in the world.”
As a graduate student at CJP, his professors modeled conflict analysis to understand the roots of conflict in order to facilitate transformative dialogue.
“I find myself having surges of gratitude for my CJP community when I find my way through difficult situations in my work,” Erb said. “I was given a framework to be a restorative justice practitioner that I’m learning is a very rare thing for others within my professional circle.”
“Aaron thrives in helping people and is truly passionate about the juveniles involved with his program,” JCJC deputy director Robert Tomassini wrote in the award program. “He understands and listens to the unique circumstances and situations of the program participants and meets everyone with an unbiased manner, open mind, and genuinely caring heart.”
Earning trust is a challenge whether working with victims or offenders, Erb said.
Victims “have to sense that I will treat their stories with respect and care, holding space for their emotional responses and allowing them to be fully where they are after being hurt by a young person,” he said. Offenders, too, must know that he cares and respects them, their own challenges and “their capacity to make good decisions in their lives … so they can bring their best self to dialogue with me and the people they harmed,” he said.
“As a facilitator, sometimes I feel like a weathervane in the stormy aftermath of a harmful incident,” he said, “but my energy is found in the moments of reconnection and restoration during and after dialogue,” in part through debriefing with colleagues who “bravely encounter these dialogues.”