Vineyard Mediation - a resource, no longer a secret
The Vineyard hides its treasures well. Part of the Island's charm is that even after many years of living here, you can still discover intriguing people, places, and things. But some resources, like the Martha's Vineyard Mediation Program, really shouldn't be such a well-kept secret.
Most people don't know much about mediation. Or they get it confused with other words just a consonant away. "I had no idea there was a meditation program in Vineyard Haven," one woman said when she visited our office recently. "How wonderful."
Here's what you should know about mediation: If you're involved in a disagreement and agree to try mediation, a trained, neutral Island resident will help you and the other person discuss your differences, understand what you really care about, and work toward a solution you both can live with. Everything said in mediation is confidential, which means people often feel free to brainstorm about solutions they might not suggest in more formal settings. Unlike judges, juries, or arbitrators, good mediators never take sides or decide who's right; if you come up with a resolution to your dispute in mediation, you'll design it. People tend to support things they've had a hand in shaping, so if you do reach an agreement, you'll have the comfort of knowing that mediated agreements are honored more often than those imposed by someone else.
Mediation is affordable. It's an alternative to going to court. And it's a chance to control your own destiny, preserving or even ending a relationship in a constructive way. Mediators know how to keep people focused, respectful, and looking ahead, so they're good at helping others learn to listen and see future possibilities rather than a pile of past trouble. Or, in the words of one Vineyard resident who used mediation to discuss parenting in a new, blended family, "It was amazing. We were able to vent, have our feelings validated and then get reinforcement on the topics we needed to discuss and make decisions on."
The Vineyard's mediation program, a nonprofit organization that has 10 year-round and five seasonal mediators, has been helping Vineyard residents and visitors resolve conflicts in an affordable, constructive, peaceful way for more than 20 years. In recent years the program has built on its proud history by training new mediators, opening an office in Vineyard Haven, offering training in land use mediation for local officials, expanding its services to include divorce mediation, and launching a new web site, mvmediation.org. On May 11, the program will continue its mission of helping year-round residents by offering more mediation training to Islanders: a one-day session to help business people deal with workplace conflict.
The program has long been approved by the state to help the District Court and the Family and Probate Court here, and this year, for the first time ever, it has been granted approval to take Superior Court cases, too.
The court work, though, tells only part of the story. Many of our cases come from the community, from people who find themselves twisted up in the kinds of conflicts we all encounter.
We've helped Vineyard residents and visitors solve problems between neighbors, friends, spouses, partners, businesspeople, and parents and children. We've helped with estate questions, such as what three siblings should do when they inherit one house, and each heir has a different idea about it. We've worked on landlord-tenant disputes, and we've helped homeowners and contractors discuss very different views and expectations. With mediators, members of a road association could talk about grading improvements that left one house surrounded by a huge puddle.
Conflict is rarely fun, and it can be especially challenging in a small community where you're apt to see the "other side" standing in line at the grocery store. So, if you're struggling with a disagreement that you can't untangle, don't wait. Contact an Island treasure.
Louisa Williams is executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Mediation Program. Tel. 508-693-2999.