The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding (RPCP) was founded in 2012 by husband & wife team Jeffrey Weisberg and Heart Phoenix. Their combined experience spans decades of activism for peace, the environment, social justice and animal rights, including the co-founding of the Peace Alliance in 2004. The Peace Alliance was founded with the intention of elevating the work of peacebuilding on a national and international level to research, articulate and facilitate non-violent solutions within legislative agendas. For the next eight years, Jeffrey and Heart traveled around the country, lobbying and learning the tools and skills of peacebuilding and restorative justice. In 2012, Heart and Jeffrey were inspired to return home to Gainesville, Florida to create a Comprehensive Peacebuilding Model in their local community. Since then, the three primary objectives of the work of RPCP has been to:
Provide cutting edge Programs, Trainings, Events and Services
Build bridges of peace (collaboration, coordination and partnerships with other organizations)
Create a translatable model for communities worldwide
RPCP is guided by the life and activism of River Phoenix. The Center honors his dedication and courageous contribution to the field of entertainment, as well as the well-being of all life on our planet. His approach was "solution-based" and RPCP is dedicated to following this path.
“If I have some celebrity, I hope I can use it to make a difference. The true social reward is that I can speak my mind and share my thoughts about the environment and civilization itself.”
- River Phoenix
Mission & Impact
The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding's (RPCP) mission is to enrich the lives of individuals, families, and communities by providing and promoting the best practices and principles of peacebuilding and global sustainability. RPCP is a mission driven organization working toward prevention, intervention and healing from violence. We are dedicated to creating essential societal change by supporting individuals and groups, as they take action through programs, services, trainings.
Since our founding in 2012, RPCP has established key initiatives throughout the world including:
Facilitating training in Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices for over 350 educators, school administrators, social workers, law enforcement officers, mental health providers and juvenile justice professionals throughout Florida
Hosting and conducting trainings for over 300 international practitioners and students, in partnership with the US State Department
Conducting over 100 Police and Educator/Youth Dialogues with over 3000 participants
Partnering with local law enforcement agencies to help reduce juvenile arrests by 53% in Gainesville, from 2014-2018
Delivering training in Trauma Responsive Community initiatives for over 1200 adults
Piloting a Community Justice Model in a community of 580 residents
Jeffrey Weisberg, Executive Director
As the Executive Director of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, Jeffrey has designed, developed and implemented a wide range of programs and services in his local community of Gainesville, Florida, throughout the United States and in countries throughout the world. His work with youth includes: police/youth dialogues, student/educator dialogues, peer mediation, juvenile diversion programs, ,social/emotional learning, restorative justice, youth empowerment and coming of age programs. For the past 25 years, Jeffrey has served as a Florida Certified State Mediator and mediates cases involving juvenile offenders, family disputes and conflict within small business and organizations. In addition, he is using Restorative Practices to support the Department of Juvenile Justice, the court system, schools, prisons and communities to bolster alternatives to the punitive model. He is a founding member of The Peace Alliance. He believes that by training and empowering both youth and adults to learn and practice vital communication skills, we not only create greater connection with others, but we can de-escalate conflict for safer and more productive outcomes.
Cindy Grimes, MA, Director of Programs and Curriculum Development
Cindy Grimes is a life-long child and family advocate. Her life mission is to empower people with understanding and practical skills to overcome life challenges, particularly those resulting from childhood trauma. After graduating from Hofstra University, Cindy worked as a victim advocate, child protective investigator and social worker, before motherhood inspired her to start her own business. She spent the next phase of her professional career establishing and publishing a local parenting magazine with goals of providing information and resources to strengthen families, protect children and foster a greater sense of community. After selling the business, Cindy honed her public speaking and presentation skills through facilitating workshops and programs teaching participants how to advocate safely and effectively on behalf of families and children. She has led workshops for thousands throughout Florida from Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Justice, Guardian Ad Litem, Community Based Care organizations, teachers, child care providers, church and community groups, incarcerated men, middle and high school students and many others. Cindy has a Master’s Degree in Consciousness Studies. She is also senior minister at the Center for Spiritual Living in Ocala. She and Grady, her husband of 30 years are the parents of three fabulous young adults and are new grandparents. Kindness is the Cure is the title of her TEDx talk.
Gretchen Casey, Director of Restorative Justice Outreach & Advocacy
As the Director of Restorative Justice Outreach & Advocacy, Gretchen develops sustainable outreach strategies to expand community peacebuilding with local and global audiences, communities and funders. Gretchen advocates for criminal justice system providers to utilize restorative justice and nonviolent communication strategies at every point of contact with victims and offenders.
Prior to joining RPCP, Gretchen worked as an advocate and counselor for victims and survivors of violent crime with Alachua County Victim Services, the Attorney General's Office and Project Payback, where she was instrumental in preparing annual juvenile offense data for Alachua County and developing the first county park for victims and survivors of crime in Florida. She is the creator of Unshame, a social media platform for anyone who has been personally impacted by rape or is interested in supporting survivors of rape. She has authored a booklet for sexual assault survivors and wrote the 2007 screenplay "Somewhere Beyond". She was the Director of Victim Services for the State Attorneys Office-8th Judicial Circuit from 2009-2017.
Gretchen's interests include Morita Therapy, working with and learning from youth, and leadership coaching. Gretchen received her B.A. in Urban Studies from the University of Florida. She is a practitioner of Morita Therapy and has co-facilitated Morita Therapy workshops with Dr. Brian Ogawa for the past 25 years.
Ben Howort, Operations Manager
Ben is a former middle school teacher, anti-bias trainer and certified professional coach (CPC). He worked at the Brooklyn Free School as an interdisciplinary teacher working with students using the democratic process to facilitate student-led education. Ben co-founded The Human Root LLC, a company focused on equity development in schools and organizations, and is a trainer for The Center for Racial Justice in Education. Ben uses a transformational coaching model with individual clients, focusing on power, parenting, communication and youth empowerment. As the Operations Manager at RPCP, Ben brings his coaching skills and knowledge of organizational development to create internal systems, lead strategic planning and supports program development.
Jhody Polk, Community Justice Coordinator
As the Community Justice Coordinator at the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, Jhody Polk is devoted to the empowerment of marginalized communities. In this role, she uses restorative practices and community peacebuilding to organize resources and strategies at the local level based on the needs of local communities while working directly with their members to develop the skills, opportunities and best practices to elevate individuals and the collective. She is dedicated to creating safe spaces where marginalized communities can identify and address injustice based on their lived experience and facilitate dialogue, solutions and partnerships that can support improving the quality of their lives and neighborhoods. She is a 2018 Soros Justice Advocacy Fellow working to empower incarcerated law clerks in prisons throughout the U.S. and she launched the first Participatory Defense Hub in the state of Florida. Jhody served as the central Florida organizer on the campaign to restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians with felony convictions, and hopes to use her passion for both community and Florida law to encourage and build relationship and understanding between the two.
Mariia Levchenko, European Director of Outreach and Training
Mariia Levchenko is the Executive Director and Founder of the Ukrainian NGO “Youth for Global Progress”. She has a Ph.D. in Economics and an MBA in International Relations. She is a graduate of “Community Leadership Institute” an Executive and Professional Education Program at George Mason University, having completed Fellowship at River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, supported by IREX. She has studied at Warsaw Euro-Atlantic Summer Academy (WEASA) at the College of Europe and Riga Graduate School of Law. Mariia works under the theme «Tolerance and Conflict Resolution» with refugees and internally displaced persons and is implementing Restorative Justice Programs in education.
Gabrielle Byam, Program Facilitator
Gabrielle has been working with youth for the past 20 years using issue-based theater. She has been with RPCP from the beginning years, assisting in the development and co-facilitation of the Communication & Self Esteem program that is delivered to youth in the juvenile justice system. Gabrielle is the founder of We The People Theater Arts Initiative and is a theater specialist. She is also the Education Director of the Hippodrome State Theater and their summer camp program.
Heart Phoenix, Board President
Heart's work, service, and activism have spanned over five decades. Heart brings the passion and energy of her name to all her endeavors, which include her work as educator, activist and champion of the environment, animal rights, social justice, peacebuilding and gender equality, throughout the United States and abroad.
Heart is currently living her dream in Gainesville, Florida as President of the Board of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, which bear the name of her son. RPCP has developed successful partnerships with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Alachua County Schools and countless other organizations through Heart’s tireless efforts to launch and drive the work of embedding best and next practices in the field of restorative conflict resolution.
She is a co-founder of The Peace Alliance, a national non-profit working toward the passage of legislation that calls for nonviolent solutions to conflicts. She serves as President of the Board of the Florida Restorative Justice Association. Her passion and commitment to nonviolence have been the center point of her life, as evidenced by her celebration of over 41 years of vegan living.
Rain Phoenix, Board Vice President
Rain Phoenix is an American musician and activist. A singer since age three and a TV & Film actor since age 11, Rain toured and recorded with Red Hot Chili Peppers and REM before forming Papercranes and becoming a member of The Citizen’s Band, a New York-based political cabaret troupe. In 2010, Rain founded Gift Horse Project, a platform that gathered different artists to collaborate on one of-a-kind concerts to benefit artist-driven charities.
She joined The Art of Elysium's team in February 2014 as the Director of Elysium Sessions. She produced the benefit concert for the Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Feel the Burn’ campaign, received an Emmy nomination for her Public Service Announcement on PBS, and created the music based podcast LaunchLeft hosted by herself and Moon Zappa. She is a contributing writer to Origin Magazine.
Rain serves on the board of various nonprofits, most notably as Vice President of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, which is extra close to her heart. Rain believes in the power of collaboration over competition and thrills in using her creativity to be in service to those in need.
Michael Tubbs, Board Treasurer
Michael is a Florida native, a longtime Gainesville resident and a graduate of the University of Florida. He has been a grateful member of the Board of Directors of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding since its inception. Michael serves as the Board Treasurer. He is a key thought partner and longtime champion of opportunities for youth through education. He is a talented musician and has written, produced and played on a variety of records for many years.
Micah Johnson, PhD, Secretary
Dr. Micah E. Johnson has dedicated his life to child health and social justice, which is reflected in his professional and personal endeavors. Micah has served as a National Institute of Health T32 Postdoctoral Fellow in the NIDA Substance Abuse Training Center in Public Health in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Florida. His research focuses on childhood trauma, adolescent substance abuse, and social inequalities. His philanthropic and research interests are fueled by his personal experiences with childhood trauma, poverty, and racial inequalities. Micah graduated from Florida State University and worked as a middle school teacher before becoming a sociologist and epidemiologist. Micah’s passions are music, theatre, mentoring, and championing the cause of peace and equality.
Katie Fields, PhD, LMHC, LMFT Board Member
Dr. Katie Fields joined the Board in November 2018 after serving as the Managing Director of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding from 2014-2018. She has been an invaluable co-creator of RPCP’s community peacebuilder model, Community Peacebuilder Immersion, training manuals, and Restorative Practices in School curriculum. Katie has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education from the University of Florida. She is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and has a private practice in Gainesville serving individuals, couples, and families.
Before joining RPCP, Katie worked on a variety of community development and violence prevention initiatives. Most notably, she served as a crime prevention analyst for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, where she helped develop the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), a neighborhood resource center that focused on strengthening families and preventing child maltreatment, for over six years.
Martin Goldberg, JD, Board Member
Martin grew up in New York and attended Syracuse University, where he majored in Political Science and Education. He graduated from the Antioch School of Law in Washington D.C. in 1982, then moved to Gainesville with his young family. He has been a peace activist and dedicated to public service for his entire adult life. Martin co-founded and managed an Intentional community in the 1970's, and served on the Board of Directors of numerous nonprofit organizations, including: Neighborhood Housing Services, The Animas Institute, The Traditional School of Acupuncture, and Radical Joy for Hard Times. He established another non-profit (Plenty) as an NGO at the United Nations and has been an Ambassadors Circle supporter. He has been involved with the Carter Center (Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope) for over ten years and is an active member of the Mankind Project.
Martin established and has managed the Goldberg Law Office for over 30 years, specializing in Disability and Injury Law. His practice has helped thousands of clients attain support, health care, and other benefits. He is also a certified Life Coach.
Veita Jackson-Carter, M.Ed., Director
Veita Jackson-Carter is a native of Gainesville, Florida. She is a life-long learner and educator. She is a graduate of Santa Fe College, the University of Florida, and Nova Southeastern University.
Veita has spent 35 years as an educator for the School Board of Alachua County, and 12 years as an Adjunct Associate at Santa Fe College. She is the administrator overseeing the Students to Successful Citizens/System of Care at the Alachua County School District. The goal of this innovative program is to match high-need students struggling in school by providing wraparound services (mental wellness, and community resources) to them and their families.
Veita is an advocate for students and families. Her work in the community involves engaging a network of 60 community, business, and faith-based partners to provide support for families.
Dorothy Maver, PhD, Board Member
Dr. Dorothy “Dot” Maver is an educator and peacebuilder whose keynote is inspiring cooperation on behalf of the common good. She is a founding Trustee and Board Member of the National Peace Academy USA, founding board member of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures of Peace, and was the founding Executive Director of RPCP.
Her work in education, politics and grassroots community organizing is focused on applied peacebuilding utilizing a shared responsibility and shared leadership model. From 2005 – 2007 Dot served as Executive Director of The Peace Alliance and Campaign for a US Department of Peace, and was National Campaign Manager for Kucinich for President in 2004. In the world of fast-pitch softball, Dot is known for her revolutionary fast-pitch hitting technique, The Maver Method: Secrets of Hitting Success. She is co-author of the book Conscious Education: The Bridge to Freedom; she is a Fellow with the World Business Academy, and serves on the boards of Lifebridge Foundation and Garden of Light. Dot also serves on the United Nations International Day of Peace NGO Education Peace Team, the International Cities of Peace Advisory Council, the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence Advisory Board, the Ashland (OR) Culture of Peace Commission Advisory Board, the Summer of Peace Wisdom Council, and is an advisor to the Compassion Games.
Deborah Phillips, JD, Board Member
Deborah has been an attorney since July of 1995, and has worked in both the private and public sectors. The majority of her practice has been as a criminal defense trial attorney. She is currently an attorney for the Gainesville Public Defender’s office, Eighth Judicial Circuit and, as such, contends daily with issues surrounding defendants’ and victims’ rights. As a criminal defense attorney, Deborah brings a unique and vital perspective on the concept and benefits of restorative justice. Her commitment to the work of RPCP stems from her desire to meet the need for restoring community connection among defendants, victims and their families, while simultaneously keeping our communities safe.