Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote often of an intrinsic unity binding all humanity. We never feel that unity more strongly than when we help others, especially people we hardly know. That is why community service is the most important component of a restorative justice program. These experiences reveal to the students how good it feels, indeed how good it is, to be of service to their fellow community members.
That is why kids who complete our restorative justice programs tend not to reoffend. They learn life offers better uses of their time and their energy. This is not to say, however, that these students are getting off easy. Community service is hard work. It takes sacrifice. It takes you out of your comfort zone. Pardon the cliche. These are programs that families in the community depend upon. They’re food banks, soup kitchens and other philanthropic organizations.
But again it is that intrinsic unity we feel with others in our community that community service teaches kids. That is the most important lesson. Many feel this strongly enough to continue volunteering even after completing the program. At the very least they have a chance to avoid the pitfalls that come with a criminal record because after they complete the program, their charge is dropped. More importantly, they can get on with their lives more empowered to make smarter, more responsible decisions.