By Jean Clark
The theme was “Music, Munchies and Mayhem” for the fundraiser and awareness for VORP last week in Pleasant Hill. Musicians Ruth and Wayne Lucas sang and led karaoke and dancing. A silent auction caused much deliberation, delicious refreshments were enjoyed by all. The president of VORP, Joe Gittings, master of ceremonies, introduced the Executive Director Rita Young, board members and former President Len Stark who gave a history of Cumberland County’s Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program (better known as VORP).
The biggest surprise was experienced by Gittings, when the assembled supporters presented him with a banjo shaped birthday cake (he plays one), which turned the party into a celebration honoring his leadership. His sister, Mary Lou McDowell, visiting from Pennsylvania shared some early memories, and his wife, Joan, led a humorous “Do you know Joe?” quiz game with prizes. Rest assured the fund-raising part was well honored as people gave generously to support VORP.
VORP is a restorative justice approach that brings offenders face-to-face with the victims of their crimes with the assistance of a trained mediator. Victims, who are generally overwhelmed by the criminal justice system, have the opportunity to speak their minds expressing feelings that help contribute to the healing process. In addition, a legal contract is developed between the victim and offender that must be approved by the court. Offenders take responsibility for their actions in restitution agreements with the victims to restore monetary or symbolic losses. This may consist of a payment plan, work for the victim, community service, etc. More than 95 percent of the mediated cases result in a written restitution agreement; 90 percent of these agreements are completed within one year. In a recent development, VORP mediators may help an offender without a high school diploma attain a GED instead of performing community service. This could lead to more financial opportunity for that person.
VORP organizations have been mediating meaningful justice between crime victims and offenders for many years. The VORP Mediation Center in Cumberland County was established in 1989 — the second such agency in the state of Tennessee. There are currently 10 other VORPS in Tennessee including agencies in Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga. In addition, nearly 300 VORP organizations are serving the United States of America and more than 1,000 are in other countries in the world.
Joe and Joan Gittings retired to Pleasant Hill, where Joe met founder and then VORP President Leonard Stark, who introduced him to the mediation process. Joe became a member of the VORP board of directors in 2011 and was elected to take Stark’s place as president when he retired in 2012. Joe’s enthusiasm for social justice and belief in VORP’s “restorative justice” mission helps alleviate the challenges this agency faces.
Maintaining an office and staff is an ongoing financial responsibility. Donations are always welcome and can be sent to VORP at P.O. Box 522, Pleasant Hill, TN 38578. Recently, the organization began operating VORP’s Vintage Resale and Thrift Store, 2625 North Main St., Ste. 400 in the back of the mini mall between Crossville Memorial Funeral Home and the Nazarene Church on N. Main St. Items for sale include art, vintage gems, collectables, tools, books, housewares and tons of thrift. Store hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Item donations will be received Monday, Thursday and Saturday during regular business hours when someone will be on duty to help with lifting.
VORP has provided free, neutral and accessible volunteer mediation service for more than 9,000 cases in Cumberland County. In addition, nearly $400,000 has been returned to victims through restitution.
Young has been the executive director of Cumberland County VORP for more than 10 years. Other VORP board members are Vice President Ken Steadman, Treasurer Karen Cole, Secretary Leroy Hammond, Bert Adams, Jon Goodwin and Andrea Van Rekom. Please call 484-0972 or email vorp.Crossville@gmail.com to learn more about becoming a volunteer mediator or for any additional information.
This week in Pleasant Hill:
• Dec. 7 at 3 p.m., in Room 4 at Pleasant Hill Community Church — the PC and MAC Joint Computer Club will meet.
• Dec. 9, at 3 p.m., at Adshead Hall — Uplands Assembly will celebrate Uplands' staff.
• Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. at Adshead Hall — Uplands residents' First Aid/CPR Class will be held.