Let’s Talk: Sustainability Coaching Against Violent Conflict

It is a tragic fact that trauma in childhood creates lasting psychological issues. Studies have shown that children exposed to trauma show higher rates of a wide range of mental health problems and the more exposed they are, the deeper and more long lasting the damage. Trauma victims can find themselves struggling with adversity and managing situations of conflict often leading to violent offences and subsequent incarceration or imprisonment. The U.S. today has the highest rate of incarceration of any country around the world holding more than two million prisoners. This equates to 25% of the world’s total prison population. One third of the U.S. population today have a criminal record*.

Bill has faced a mountainous challenge to get to where he is today. He’s a victim of a troubled past but is now reformed and spends his free time helping a U.S. charity that works to resolve violence. Through his own personal bravery and a desire to give back, Bill is supporting an organization that aims to bring peace and create a more harmonious society.

Can you tell us more about AVP and what the organization does?

AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program) is a grassroots, global movement dedicated to building peace in the home, at schools, institutions and communities. It helps people to positively transform the way they think and react to create a safer and more peaceful society. AVP is an umbrella group that supports local groups across the U.S. from youth through to community and prisons, promoting non-violent conflict resolution through workshops and discussions. The organization started after the troubles of prison fighting in New York in the 1970s. A group of inmates there had witnessed the Attica riots and were troubled by seeing young inmates being repeatedly incarcerated for increasingly more violent offences. They began a series of workshops which showed they could change behaviours and so AVP was born. Today the charity works closely with academics and college professors, specializing in psychological and educational program goals, adding expert professional guidance to the program.

AVP also has an international team – they are present in over 40 countries and will often go into war zones. They went into Rwanda, for instance, to help resolve some of the damage caused by the genocide and worked to reform some prisoners who after 20 or even 30 years are now being welcomed back into the community.

Can you tell us how your journey started with AVP?

I started working with the local AVP/Nebraska group in about 2006 attending workshops, while incarcerated. Then I volunteered to become a facilitator. Through the experience gained I qualified to become a lead facilitator. After being paroled I was chosen to be a peace fellow with AVP USA, which works as a leadership pipeline into AVP USA. Currently I’m the treasurer for AVP USA, so I do all the financial bookkeeping, work with their finance committee, and am on the Board of Directors. I also help to manage the start-up, instruction manual book, and support grants to local groups. The charity is entirely reliant on donations, so we must manage finances especially carefully.

We all face conflicts, in our lives, but how do we turn conflict into non-violent transforming power from which you can teach others the skills. Nelson Mandela said, “look for the best in people” and that’s what we try to encourage. Too often people expect the worst and that negatively affects the outcome of a situation. It’s about helping people to have respect for themselves, care for others and think more before allowing yourself to react. It’s really important to stop and think about what’s going on and plan for non-violent resolution. People often react to trigger points that they associate back to that point of trauma and react to it in the present. We help people understand how they can break that cycle and chain of events to help them find more peaceful reactions to specific situations or encounters. We encourage people to think their way through and not react through it; to overcome that fight or flight cycle. Our youth-based groups are for anyone, especially those with mental health and/or past trauma issues. We talk about how they feel about themselves and how to overcome negative thoughts. A lot of it is about building trust and helping them to feel more positively about things.

What impact does the program have on those who participate?

The organization helps thousands of people every year. I’ve seen people who have turned their lives around when people realize there is an alternative to a violence. People change and when AVP is involved it makes a difference to the society we live in as a community. It helps to provide people with coping skills to improve their lives and those of people around them. Some of the stories I hear bring me to tears, so anything I can do to help them is a step forward. We’re able to help thousands of people every year.

What makes a good AVP volunteer?

You need to have a few special qualities including having an interest in caring for others and seeing the best outcomes. You also need to be able to seek out non-violent paths. I think that my job helps me with AVP and vice versa. At the end of the day, they’re both about helping people resolve their issues at a very sensitive time. With my work I talk with people suffering from critical illness, dealing with indemnity and help people work through the claims process. It matters to me that NTT cares about sustainability and, well, I can say NTT is the best employer I’ve ever worked for.

How does your work with AVP align to your passion for sustainability?

I see it as being part of creating a better society. From the age of eight years old I got the chance to live with my grandmother on a farm for the summer. I got to see the importance of sustainability on the ranch and livestock; most farmers are environmentalists. I also come from a very religious family with ministers on both sides and actively volunteered with the cub scouts and sports coaching when my kids were growing up. It’s instilled in me a sense of service, helping people, and I really enjoy that. I am a firm believer that people can change and deserve a second chance.

*Source: Incarceration Rates by Country 2023 worldpopulationreview.com

Bill Zuck

Bill works in health insurance at NTT DATA helping with critical illness, indemnity, accident, and other topics as people navigate their way through their claims process. He has worked at NTT DATA for a little under two years specializing in customer service. Bill is based in Lincoln, Nebraska and works for MetLife on behalf of NTT DATA. Having worked in power plants before Bill now prefers being more desk-based. He enjoys looking after his tropical fish and gardening in his spare time. He has a passion for sustainability and adopts sustainable living wherever he can including the installation of solar panels and using a bicycle for transport.

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