What is a Community Mediation Center?

 by Janet M. Powers

Adams County is one of twelve in the state fortunate to have a community mediation program which offers inexpensive conflict resolution services on a sliding scale for those who prefer to settle disputes without legal advocacy. Dauphin and Lancaster Counties offer similar services, and MSAC personnel network frequently with their staff as well as with volunteer mediators from Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, State College and other areas.

Most are affiliated with the Pennsylvania Council of Mediators and follow PCM guidelines for training and in-service requirements. Although in Adams County we don’t have an office or central dispute resolution center, we are able to make available many of the same services offered by the larger, better-funded centers which have paid staff. By holding mediations in churches or community service agency offices, and making use of a telephone message line, MSAC is able to meet community needs.

All community mediation programs make use of volunteer mediators who have completed at least 22 hours of training and interned with experienced mediators. MSAC mediators have trained in a variety of settings: Mennonite Conciliation Services, The Washington DC Police Department, Church of the Brethren Mediation Program, York Victim-Offender Program, and University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as MSAC. Mediators are not paid but have a strong commitment to helping others reach agreements with lingering disputes.

In Adams County, many of our mediations have to do with marriages that are coming apart. Although we do not accept cases in which one party is abusive or seeks power over the other, we are able to help parties with property settlement and children’s visitation. Landlord-tenant disputes are another common type of community mediation, particularly where parties are willing to talk amicably with each other and resolve such issues as needed repairs or overdue rent.

We also work with neighborhood disputes, which may involve barking dogs, property boundaries or unsightly trash. Community mediation revives the age-old practice of seeking help from a wise elder or community leader to help settle disputes before they escalate into life-threatening or emotionally painful situations. With the help of trained personnel, disputants listen to each other’s side of the story and then work together to come up with feasible solutions.

The goal is to reach an agreement in which both sides are willing to make changes and both sides will benefit from the outcome. The agreement is then written out and signed by both disputants and mediators. Although mediators are not permitted to appear in court, the signed agreement is legally valid and may, if necessary, be used in court. Community mediators, however, are part of an alternative dispute resolution system, a less expensive option for solving thorny conflicts than legal recourse.

Winning a legal battle often creates enemies for life. Mediation, on the other hand, is especially appropriate for situations in which disputants need to relate to each other on a daily basis, as with family, neighbors, or co-workers. Although “talking things over” is always a good idea, a third party can help individuals get beyond the stage of name-calling, same-old arguments, or uncertainty about what to do next.

If you need the help of a mediator or are interested in conflict resolution training, contact Mediation Services of Adams County: mediationac@yahoo.com or the MSAC helpline at 334-7312.