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New Mediators Ready To Serve Mid Shore

Mid Shore Community Mediation Center has more than a dozen new volunteer mediators ready to offer their help to residents of the organization’s tri-county service area. Thirteen men, women and teens recently participated in three weekends of Basic Mediation Training at the Choptank Electric Cooperative building in Denton.

Five individuals from Community Mediation Upper Shore, the Community Mediation Initiative at Salisbury, and Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center also took part in the training sessions.

The trainees came from varied backgrounds, an asset in matching mediators with clients to ensure participants feel their issues are being understood and properly conveyed.

Donna Matthews is a retired family law attorney from Talbot County. Having experience in the courtroom, she appreciates the value of mediation in peacefully resolving disputes before they become destructive to relationships.

Randolph Fitchett of Ridgely is a student of Human Services at Sojourner Douglass College in Cambridge and pastor of a small Dorchester County church.  He hopes his new training will benefit both his parishioners and the community as a whole.

The benefits of mediation include the time and expense saved in avoiding costly courtroom litigation, and often the preservation of relationships that otherwise might irreparably be broken in legal wrangling. In mediation, participants work out mutually agreed upon solutions to disputes with the assistance of trained neutral mediators.

Spreading the word about the value of mediation has been a means not only of encouraging wider use of the Mediation Center’s free services, but also of recruiting new volunteers. Kimberly Kelley of Easton approached Executive Director Peter Taillie with her interest in the training after he gave a presentation to her office at Talbot County’s Department of Juvenile Justice.

While wanting to add skills to her professional ability to help others move through crises, she said she also took the training to help herself in daily life.

Many of the mediation volunteers, like Rochelle Cooper, a human resources consultant from Hurlock, see their participation as a way to give back to the community. Cooper is interested in going on to additional specialized training in large-group facilitation and parent/teen mediation. “As a parent,” she said, “I can see how mediation helps to defuse conflicts in the home, which carries over to how teens act outside the home.”

Instilling peaceful conflict resolution skills at an early age through teen mediation is a growing specialty for the Mediation Center. Fifteen-year-old Abby Smith of Preston was one of three teenagers who participated in the training.

Recruited by a mediator who attends her church, the Colonel Richardson High School student said she can see that the skills she is learning will be of value throughout her life.

Role playing is an integral part of the training, with emphasis on promoting skills such as reflective listening.  The technique involves listening to understand the speaker’s issues and then offering the ideas back to the speaker to ensure they have been understood and accurately conveyed.

“Abby already is really good at reflective listening,” said Kelley, after participating with her in the training. Smith, like others, was surprised she was so good at picking up the skills.

The trainers’ expertise and encouragement keep the trainees engaged and focused during the intensive 45 hours of training sessions. “I participate in a lot of trainings through my work and I hate trainings in general,” said Kelley, “but this is great. It is so lively and interesting.”

The training was conducted by Errika Bridgeford from Community Mediation Maryland, with assistance by Tracee Ford, Executive Director of Community Mediation Baltimore. Experienced mediators from Mid Shore Mediation participated in role playing with the trainees, adding perspective from real-life mediations.

The new volunteers will be introduced gradually to actual mediation responsibilities.  They first serve an apprenticeship, where they observe mediations and then serve as co-mediators. Following strategy sessions where their performance is assessed and a final follow-up review of their original training, volunteers receive a certificate of completion of their Basic Training.

Initially qualified to mediate a variety of disputes, including neighbor and workplace conflicts, civil court and discrimination cases, parent/teen issues and more, some other areas require more advanced training.

Taillie thanked Choptank Electric for welcoming the group to use its Caroline County facility this year. The annual Basic Training rotates among the counties of the Mediation Center’s service area and will take place next year in Dorchester County, and Talbot County in 2012.

In addition to participating in mediations, the new mediators are tasked with going out into the community to find referrals. “Mediation is acknowledged as a valid and progressive process,” Taillie said, “but it is not yet immediately thought of as the resource of first resort.

“We need our mediators to help get the word out that mediation works and is less expensive, faster and more effective than alternatives.”

For more information on mediation, to make a contribution, or to volunteer as a mediator, call Mid Shore Community Mediation Center at 410-820-5553 or visit www.midshoremediation.org.

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Photo Captions:

Basic_Training_RolePlay.jpg:  Left to right, trainees Kimberly Kelley, Abby Smith, Randolph Fitchett and Donna Matthews practice their new mediation skills in a role playing exercise during their Basic Training.

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