Mediation Center offering free training for residents

'It's a big commitment, but it's very rewarding'

June 04, 2010|By HEATHER LOWERY

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Community Mediation Center is offering free mediator training for 20 residents of the Washington County area. The registration deadline is June 7 and training begins June 14.

"We offer conflict resolution training to help people handle conflict in a positive, meaningful and constructive way," said Cliff Kurt Sr., executive director of the mediation center. "We are going to train a total of 20 new mediators in June, starting the 14th. We only do 20 for it to be effective training."

Kurt said the training is free and there are no requirements for signing up, other than a minimum age.

"Sixteen years old is the minimum age requirement. There is no education requirement or skill requirement, just a willingness to work hard during the training," he said.

Training is intensive and involves hours of attendance.

"It's 50 hours of training, 45 hours throughout the month of June over several evenings and two or three weekend days," Kurt said. "We ask volunteers to come back at some time for the last five hours of the follow-up training. It's a big commitment, but it's very rewarding."


"It's a lot of development and learning how to develop the means to communicate with the participants and to help them communicate with the mediators and with each other in a positive way," Kurt said. "It's learning how to be neutral and impartial and still be able to communicate without passing judgment."

At the end of successful mediation, parties sign a memorandum of understanding, Kurt said.

"It's a document that they will sign and the mediators will sign at the end of mediation. It explains the conflict and what each party is going to do to solve or manage that conflict in a constructive way. It may acknowledge that there will be areas of conflict and show how to prevent those areas of conflict," Kurt said.

Confidentiality is not compromised during mediation, Kurt said.

"Everything is confidential, everything is shredded at the end. The only thing that remains is the memorandum of understanding," Kurt said. "The only thing that would be reported are reports of elder abuse, of child abuse or any credible accounts of violence."

Kurt said the mediation center deals with issues ranging from landlord-tenant disputes, parent-child disputes and neighbor-to-neighbor disputes.

"We also deal with referrals from the State's Attorney's Office, and low-level charges, such as first-time offenders charged with vandalism or second-degree assault," he said. "These are issues of conflict that could be addressed and resolved."

If the parties go through mediation and revolve the issues, the state often will drop the charges, Kurt said.

Patricia McConnell, a volunteer mediator for the mediation center, said she believes that mediation is essential in all types of conflict.

"I think it's important to be able to help anyone in a conflict, and that could be anyone from those being directed to mediation by the court, or to someone who is open to learning to deal with conflict," she said. "Mediation helps you to get a better understanding of what you're saying and what other people are saying, because sometimes it gets confusing."

Mediation is not a complex concept, according to Kurt.

"With mediation, the parties come together and explore their areas of conflict. The mediators don't tell them how to solve it, they just mediate the conflict and allow the parties to come up with the solutions," he said.

There is a need for Spanish-speaking volunteers at the mediation center, Kurt said.

"We would love to have some Spanish-speaking people attend training, but they need to speak Spanish and English fluently," he said.

The effects of mediation can be carried over beyond an initial conflict.

"Being able to help people understand what those tools are that they can use, that's important," McConnell said. "Those are the tools those people can take away and use in anything -- family, work, it's just all encompassing. Mediation is a very excellent communication tool."

The mediators can reap benefits, too.

"What could be more rewarding than helping a couple of people who have butted heads come together and restore relationships, leaving the mediation table shaking hands and being glad to have worked out their differences?" Kurt asked.

"It's a pretty impactful thing, and it's very rewarding," McConnell said.

If you go

What: Mediation training

Where: Washington County Community Mediation Center, 101 Summit Ave., Hagerstown

Registration deadline: June 7

Training begins: June 14

For information: Call 301-665-9262 or go to

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