Meeting New Partners for Justice~ COSA

By Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud
August 19, 2015

Circles of Support and Accountability

From our new Friends at CoSA – Natalia and Richard

Many of us reap the dividends of growing up and living in loving and supportive communities and families. Often we experience the advantage of mutually-beneficial communities of care. There is truth in the saying it takes a whole community to raise a child, and many of us are living testaments to that truth. But not every person emerges from childhood having benefitted from caring and supportive communities.

Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) is a nonprofit organization whose members seek to provide that care and support to our participants, who we call core members. At the heart of CoSA are core members, folks who have violently offended and done time; folks who want to change. The circles provide a small community of care to facilitate that change.

CoSA is part of a broader umbrella organization, Initiatives for Just Communities (IJC), along with three other unique social justice programs: Touchstone, Open Circle, and El Dad Ranch.  IJC came into existence in 2011; however, all four programs have much longer histories, having been created and nurtured by Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba and then ‘graduated’ into their own organization.

CoSA started in 1994 in Southern Ontario as a result of a pilot project to help two newly-released people with sexual offense histories in living offense-free, by supporting them in re-establishing themselves in the community safely. Since then the model has spread. Currently there are seventeen different CoSA programs in Canada spanning nine provinces, as well as multiple programs in the United States and all of the member countries of the United Kingdom. CoSA was established in Winnipeg in 1998.

How does CoSA work?

CoSA is simply regular gatherings of small groups called “circles,” where members build friendships and trust. CoSA currently has eight active circles, each comprised of one staff member, 2-5 trained support volunteers, and one client.  They spend time together, doing activities core members might not normally experience. Core members often have a history of relationships that haven’t provided support. Volunteers are a key ingredient. Meetings are often in the evening, although there are opportunities for outings like camping, bowling, holiday celebrations, or afternoons at the beach. There is a minimum expectation that members participate in the weekly circle meetings for at least one year.

CoSA welcomes volunteers to participate in this important work and we are looking for volunteers!

Contact Natalia Ilyniak at or 204-925-1915 for more details! More info here.

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