Health & Wellness

Mediation program hopes to expand—A person-to-person peace

When conflict arises in the village, one local organization stands ready to reconcile differences and make peace — the Village Mediation Program.

For 21 years, the program’s trained volunteer facilitators have mediated crises free of charge between neighbors, families and businesses, saving villagers thousands of dollars in legal fees and the frustration of prolonged disputes.

“We all get into situations where we feel conflict and can’t find our center,” said new part-time program coordinator Lisa Kreeger. “The advantage of mediation is you’re sitting with someone who is not in the middle.”

However, in recent years use of the program has dropped off. Now the new coordinator, Kreeger, hopes to lead the group through a revitalization that will expand its services for villagers, train a more diverse set of facilitators, work more closely with the Mayor’s Court and police department and address disputes throughout the village.

“A lot of people still recognize that, although we pride ourselves on being a progressive community, we still have a lot of differences in coming to accord and taking action,” said Village Mediation steering committee member Saul Greenberg.

One of 18 community mediation programs in the state, Village Mediation helps clashing parties come to an agreement without going to court.

“The mediator doesn’t have that authority [to enforce agreements]; they are there as an assistant to help people communicate better and make the decisions themselves,” said Janet Mueller, another steering committee member.

“Sometimes it’s hard to have the conversations directly, so mediation helps make those conversations productive for people,” she said.

Over one or more face-to-face meetings, the facilitator listens to each side’s story, helps clarify people’s concerns and, if the conflict has not been resolved through the dialogue, prepares a nonbinding written agreement.

“Even if it doesn’t solve everything, it helps them figure out what they need and what they want,” Mueller said of the process.

Village Mediation is adept at resolving friction between neighbors at odds over noisiness, at-large pets and garbage can placement, in addition to employee-employer squabbles, disputes between customers and businesses and arguments among parents and their children, while custody battles and contract negotiations are in the realm of the traditional legal system.

Many of Village Mediation’s clients are referred from the police department, the Village, and the Mayor’s Court, saving village officials from having to resolve conflicts themselves. For this vital service, in addition to generally creating peace in town, Village Mediation is supported with public funds — about $8,000 annually to pay for its part-time coordinator.

“It takes a lot of things off my desk, things that are important but better handled by people who are trained in mediation,” said Police Chief John Grote. “We do a lot of mediation in the police department, but some of our efforts are better used in more criminal-type complaints.”

In looking to more collaboration with the police and Mayor’s Court, Kreeger is meeting with Grote and Mayor Dave Foubert next week to come up with guidelines to refer people to Village Mediation’s services.

“Sometimes it’s better where you can get parties together and let them be part of the outcome and decisions,” Grote said. “We’d like to use [Village Mediation] a lot more than we do.”

Despite its success in reconciling heated conflicts, Village Mediation’s services have been utilized less frequently by villagers in recent years. Kreeger said she hopes to turn around that trend by ramping up marketing and facilitator training.

At a day-long training in the fall, which all interested villagers can attend, new facilitators will learn the skills of listening, neutrality and other mediation techniques. They will then join the ranks of the 12 current facilitators and may be called into action when conflict arises, going out in groups of two.

Having a group of facilitators who reflect the diversity of the community will be useful to clients, who will have someone with whom to identify, Kreeger said. Especially needed are younger mediators for peer-to-peer facilitations, though volunteers of all ages are welcome.

By working as little as a few hours per year on a flexible basis, volunteer facilitators serve their community while gaining personal satisfaction in what Kreeger calls “transformational mediation.”

“Transformational mediation is that everyone grows and changes for the positive through the mediation process  — including the mediator,” Kreeger said.

Kreeger’s mediation philosophy, developed through years of work in business mediation as an “organizational marriage counselor,” as well as her ambitious vision for the program, is seen as a welcome change.

“Lisa brings a level of expertise we’ve not had before in the coordinator position,” said steering committee member Len Kramer. “She has a lot of experience and a lot of academic background.”

A recent graduate from Antioch University Midwest’s Leadership and Change PhD program, Kreeger hopes to train the whole community how to mediate conflict by using the program’s services.

“Being part of a mediation teaches you how to be a mediator — about talking to one another, listening to one another,” she said. “Two people at a time, five people at a time and suddenly you have a transformed community.”

To have a dispute mediated or learn more about the upcoming facilitator training, contact Kreeger at 767-7701 or mediation {at} yso(.)com .

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