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Peacemakers praised at Washington County Mediation Center awareness event

October 17, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN -- Everyone is an expert in conflict.

Whether initiating conflict, or avoiding it at every turn, conflict is a part of most people's lives, said Valerie Main, Executive Director of the Washington County Community Mediation Center. Locally, though, there are about 100 trained volunteers who are experts in resolving conflict. Those people work with the mediation center on Summit Avenue in Hagerstown - one of 18 such centers statewide.

Volunteers raised awareness about the free, confidential mediation services Thursday during the mediation center's second annual Creating a Peaceful Society Educational Event, held on International Conflict Resolution Day. About 50 people attended the celebration at North Hagerstown High School.

Local government, law enforcement, judicial and schools officials spoke during the event, saying that mediation and conflict resolution are essential in a safe community.

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Monica Lechuga, director of case management, said the local mediation center oversees about 125 mediations annually, many referred by judges or school officials.

However, anyone experiencing conflict can take advantage of the resource.

Linda Jones, a case manager, said conflict resolution and mediation can help with everything from a neighborhood misunderstanding to a family spat. The Washington County Community Mediation Center also helps couples, people who are divorced and those experiencing conflict over child custody issues.

Mediation enables participants to freely discuss disagreements and work together to develop creative and mutually agreeable, long-lasting solutions to their conflicts.

Candi Kelley, 15, of Sharpsburg, said the group is "wonderful" and has seen firsthand that mediations help people by establishing a mutual understanding of the problem. Candi, a Boonsboro High School sophomore, joined the mediation center as a volunteer last year, and has already gone through some training.

She must still watch two mediations and participate in two co-mediations before she takes part in a mediation.

"People realize there are other ways ... other than fighting, knives and guns," Candi said. "They are helped a lot."

During Thursday's event, Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore and Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith presented awards to winners of the "Vision of Peace" art and essay contest.

Maryland Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, also attended the celebration and spoke about the importance of mediation in a community, saying he has some experience with conflict resolution.

"I am a person of faith," he said. "And within the church, mediation is something that has been done for a long time."

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