Parkland Restorative Justice has a new executive director. The agency, which is supported by Mennonite Church Saskatchewan (MC Sask), hired Heather Driedger to fill the position recently vacated by Ryan Siemens. Originally from Saskatoon, Driedger is a 2004 graduate of Rosthern Junior College. She earned a BA degree in peace and conflict transformation studies from Canadian Mennonite University.
After a year in the Netherlands, Driedger returned to Winnipeg, where she volunteered with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Manitoba at Sam’s Place, helping young people acquire employable skills such as operating a cash register or preparing food. Later, as an MCC Manitoba employee, Driedger worked with a program called Journey to Justice. Volunteers helped inmates of Stony Mountain Penitentiary to craft beaded jewelry. These items were sold outside the penitentiary, and proceeds went toward purchasing a house for victims’ families to stay in during trials. The program “was an attempt to have inmates try to repair some of the harm they had done,” says Driedger. Conversations with both volunteers and inmates deepened her interest in restorative justice.
Most recently, Driedger completed a two-year term with Mennonite Voluntary Service in Alamosa, Colorado. Here, part of her time was spent working in a conflict management diversion program. Youth who were arrested on alcohol or marijuana charges could opt to participate in this program instead of being charged with their crimes.
Parkland Restorative Justice offers two programs. Person to Person or P2P is a prison visitation program, which has been in operation for 40 years. Currently about 60 volunteers visit inmates in the Prince Albert Penitentiary. Circles of Support and Accountability help sex offenders safely re-integrate into the community after completing their sentences.
Parkland’s new director hopes these programs can continue but admits the organization is “at a critical point with funding.” Government and grant money are one source of funding, but these are not always reliable. “It’s very important for the church to be involved because [restorative justice] is exactly what Jesus talks about,” she says.
Driedger hopes to grow support within the church; she expects her job will include raising funds and awareness for Parkland. Recently Parkland’s base of support has become more ecumenical. Driedger says she wants “to continue nurturing voices from other denominations.” She also hopes to educate youth about her agency’s programs, because she says they are often receptive to the concept of restorative justice. “What does it mean to be a pacifist today? How do I live out my pacifist beliefs?” she asks. “Restorative justice is a way of discovering where pacifism lies.”
Driedger, who began her new job on Aug. 15, looks forward to becoming involved with Grace Mennonite Church in Prince Albert.