Longmont Community Justice Partnership,or LCJP, has chosen Shalene Onyango as the new executive director for the social justice nonprofit.
Onyango started with LCJP as developmental director before stepping in as the interim executive director when Kathleen McGooey left the position in April 2021.
“Shalene Onyango upholds the expansive vision and wholesome integrity around social justice issues that are challenging the restorative justice field today,” said LCJP board member Erica Lee.
Onyango spent most of her early career in international development, particularly with refugee resettlement in Nairobi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda. After learning about restorative justice in her studies for her Master’s in Social Justice, Onyango experienced the benefits first hand in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. According to Onyango, the restorative justice practice was used to bring responsible and harmed parties from the genocide together to place justice in the hands of communities.
After Onyango returned to Colorado, she worked with the organization CASA, aiding social workers to advocate for children involved with neglect and dependency cases through the foster system. After that, Onyango went on to work with Rocky Mountain Legal Center to continue her work with social justice and advocacy in the legal framework. During that time, Onyango helped develop the Legal Information Network of Colorado to provide pro-bono resources for crime victims in Colorado.
“It was an exciting opportunity for me to come here, get an understanding of what restorative justice really is. What we do at LCJP goes beyond restorative justice, it's really about integration of restorative practices into our community,” Onyango said. “People take what they learn in our conferences and apply them in their own lives. That was part of the appeal, being part of a community that is so grassroots oriented and designed around being responsive to the community needs.”
As interim director, Onyango had full support from the LCJP board of directors, along with her staff. According to Onyango, it was a very transparent process moving from interim to full executive director.
“From the beginning of being considered for the executive director role, she has established commitments to uplevel LCJP’s social and racial equity procedures and practices,” Lee said. “This is a critical piece for leaders today and Shalene holds the complexity with compassion and a growth mindset. I personally feel hopeful about the leading edge that LCJP can maintain in the restorative justice field with her at the forefront of the organization.”
Onyango also gives credit to LCJP’s partnership with Social Venture Partners and participation in their Catapult program for encouraging her to embrace her new role as a leader. The Catapult program gives financial support, as well as leadership coaching to non-profit organizations.
“Shalene is that best type of leader,” said Social Venture Partners CEO Josh Silberstein. “She is clear in what she wants and she knows how to listen and incorporate other people’s ideas so that there is a feeling of being collaborative and inclusive.”
As a leader at LCJP, Onyango wants to uplift her staff and bring a more communal form of leadership to the organization. Onyango wants to broaden and strengthen relationships within Longmont’s business and nonprofit community, to help incorporate restorative practices outside the criminal justice system.
“For me that had to start with the women I work with and what their vision for the organization is too,” Onyango said. “It’s not just about my vision, but a communal vision of the change that we’re trying to create together.”
Moving forward, Onyango will continue the partnership with Longmont Public Safety, as well as continuing to do restorative justice training with schools and other governmental bodies.
Onyango noted that the pandemic had a significant impact on LCJP and the work in St. Vrain Valley School District, or SVVSD. With online school in a lot of situations, there were less student referrals and less incidents that required restorative practices in the school district.
LCJP recently finished professional development training with SVVSD, a post-COVID reintegration and resilience training for teachers and school resource officers to help relearn restorative practices in an education setting. There will be another training at the start of the Fall 2021 semester. Continual training for district staff and school resource officers to better implement restorative practices in schools is a priority.
“We’re trying to get people fired up about what we’re doing here at LCJP,” Onyango said. “We’ve been in this community for so long and we want to be more of a household name. We want the community to truly understand how integral restorative practices are to a healthy, functioning Longmont.”
As pandemic restrictions and emergency orders lift, LCJP will be bringing a stronger presence into the community to share restorative practices outside the realm of criminal justice.
Coming up on July 24, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the United Church of Christ in Longmont is LCJP's Post-Pandemic Reintegration Pancake Breakfast. Onyango and her staff welcome any Longmont residents that want to learn more about LCJP and restorative practices.
“We’re bringing people together with a down-home, grassroots pancake breakfast, with connection circles and helping people get used to being back in a space together,” Onyango said.