ALLOUEZ — Volunteers for the Mediation Center of Greater Green Bay seek to ensure the “scales of justice” by helping people to resolve a variety of disputes.
The Mediation Center is in need of additional volunteers and is offering mediation training. The four-day training session will take place Sept. 20, 21, 25 and 26, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in Melania Hall on the Diocese of Green Bay campus. Training is free to anyone who commits to volunteering with the center for at least one year.
The center offers a discounted rate for those working for nonprofit organizations. For more information or to register for training, contact the Mediation Center, (920) 438-7067 or email [email protected] There is a maximum of 18 people for the yearly training.
“It’s a very in-depth, 40-hour training,” said Amy Kocha, the executive director of the Mediation Center of Green Bay. She said that because it is specialized training, it is unique from other volunteer opportunities. This leads many of the volunteers to make a long-term commitment. The Mediation Center currently has 40 volunteers who each handle about one or two mediations per month.
Training sessions cover the ethics and processes of mediation. Trainees learn these skills through role playing, observing and co-mediating with an experienced mediator.
The Mediation Center has a contract with Brown County to handle small claims, most of which are landlord and tenant disputes where the tenant faces eviction. Bobbie Lison, the operations manager of Financial Health Services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, has been a volunteer with the center for three years. She said evictions are one of the primary issues relating to homelessness.
“It’s really about dignity and respect for everybody and helping to bring people together to come up with something that works for everybody,” said Lison.
Lison said that without proper, safe housing, “it makes it increasingly difficult for people to escape poverty.”
“If (the tenant is) evicted, that’s one way they could be homeless, or the fact that they were evicted could lead to homelessness down the line because of the eviction on their record,” said Lison.
Cases start in small claims court and those involved have the opportunity to mediate. If the mediation is unsuccessful, mediations receive a court date and the judge determines the outcome of the dispute. Mediations promote fair communication between both sides to come up with an outcome that each person agrees with, said Lison.
“They both win somewhat, maybe not what they hoped, but they both still win,” said Lison.
In addition to landlord and tenant disputes, Lison has also handled disputes between friends, couples and businesses.
Lison said the skills she has learned through the Mediation Center also help with her work at Catholic Charities. Part of her work with housing counseling includes homeless services and the Mediation Center has allowed her to establish relationships with landlords to help those who have difficulties finding housing.
“It’s a great learning experience for (the volunteers) personally and a great rewarding feeling when you know you can help parties come to a decision on their own,” said Kocha. She said the center has an 80-percent success rate.
“Some of them, they’re walking out together and they’re laughing, so it’s that ability to take something that was so toxic and make it work,” said Lison. She said that volunteering at the center is an opportunity for a person to use their gifts on “a different level.”
“You get right at the table with people and help them figure out how to resolve their own disputes,” said Kocha, “and, frankly, the mediators also gain the benefit of learning about themselves. How do they individually handle conflict and what’s driving them?”
“It’s challenging and it’s fun because it’s just using your mind in a whole different way,” said Lison. She thinks of mediations like a chess game, bringing up different possibilities that allow others to come to a conclusion they agree on. Mediations help them to have a conversation and see the other person’s side, said Lison.
Kocha said that the Mediation Center will also start family mediations for Brown County. The primary issues in these disputes, which often result from paternity or divorce cases, are regarding placement or custody of children. Mediators help ensure the best possible outcome for children involved.
“For volunteers (who) are interested in doing the family side of it, there is an additional training that involves the issue of domestic violence and how that impacts a family mediation situation,” said Kocha.