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Mediation center's chief leads volunteers

April 23, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

When Valerie Main reads about a man who shot his neighbor's birds, hears about parents struggling with their teenage children or learns about fights among co-workers, her first reaction always is: "It doesn't have to be like this."

Main, executive director of the Washington County Community Mediation Center, oversees nearly 30 volunteers who are trained to intervene in such situations.

"Conflict occurs in everyone's life on a daily basis, in different degrees," she said. "If you don't know how to work it out on your own, it just escalates very quickly, quite often to the point of violence."

Main, 46, who has been executive director of the center for more than a year, does not act as a mediator herself.

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She takes calls from people who want help resolving their conflicts. Because Main takes the first call, making her more familiar with the calling party, she is not neutral and therefore cannot mediate, she said.

Instead, nearly 30 volunteers, including several teenagers who have undergone extensive training, meet with the parties and help them come to agreements.

The teenagers don't meet with parties on their own, she said. Teenagers are used to mediate problems in which a teenager is an involved party, she said.

Main said she is working with Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Margaret Kline to get conflict resolution worked into the cadet curriculum at the Western Maryland Police Academy.

Lorig Charkoudian, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Mediation Centers, the state membership organization for community mediation, said it is Main's efforts to get and keep teenagers involved that impresses her most.

Charkoudian said Main has worked with teens to spread awareness about the mediation center and to compose a survey for teens about conflict.

Main "is warm and caring, but I think especially with teenagers, I think that she really is very open-minded and believes in them and what they have to offer," she said.

Volunteers through the center, a grant-funded organization that started here in 2001, can meet prospective clients at neutral sites throughout the county.

"The center has grown so much over the past year," she said.

Charkoudian said Main has built strong partnerships with other community organizations, such as the county school board and sheriff's department, an effort that "really says a lot about her ability to connect with people."

Name - Valerie Main

Address - Middletown, Md.

Date of Birth - Nov. 11, 1959

Occupation - Executive director of the Washington County Community Mediation Center

Most Notable Achievement - Pulling in our youth to get involved in our center and helping them to write our first grant.

Your Proudest Moment - Seeing the kids complete their certification to become certified mediators. Three teenagers are certified to mediate through the center.

Who is the person you most admire and why? - Lorig Charkoudian, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Mediation Centers, the state membership organization for community mediation. "She inspires me almost on a daily basis."

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? - Her mother, Patricia Lauer, of Hagerstown, told her: "Do the best that you can."

What is the next goal you would like to achieve? - She'd like to get a developing program with the Washington County State's Attorney's Office off the ground. If would allow the mediation center to mediate cases that are deemed better suited for conflict resolution than for court.

By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

Valerie Main, executive director of the Washington County Community Mediation Center, oversees volunteers who are trained to help resolve conflicts.

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