Problems solved

Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program helps the community resolve conflict of nearly every variety.

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In a world filled with turmoil in so many arenas, it was a true breath of hope to speak with communication and outreach coordinator Kiki Homer and board president Rachel BenDavid of the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program (MVMP). This impressive Island organization provides community education, outreach, mediation, conflict coaching, facilitation, and related services to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

BenDavid joined the board in 2018, and just took the reins as the president this fiscal year. Coming up on its 40th anniversary, the program is “really wonderful,” she says. “This organization has come so far. For so long, it was just providing services in the courthouse to get people to really work through conflict.”

I was struck, reading through their newsletter and looking at their website, by the impressive variety of services they provide in addition to those related to divorce, small claims, and civil court. BenDavid tells me that during the pandemic, housing conflicts became an enormously pressing issue. “Things were really terrible for a lot of people. The state was enacting plans for keeping people in their homes and providing some security. But there were still conversations that needed to happen between the parties. M.V. Mediation Program not only embraced that, but jumped on it,” she explains.

“There has just been a consistent evolution of addressing needs,” BenDavid added. Among the many other situations in which they help facilitate conversations are with family conflicts and businesses when there is a transition, for example, to new ownership or from one generation to the next.

Other services are local consumer advocacy, financial conflict coaching, agricultural mediation, and elderly and aging mediation. And they never turn anyone away for financial reasons, charging on a sliding fee scale. MVMP also serves the Brazilian community. Portuguese speakers who attend their courses need to have a working knowledge of English, but can use the help of co-learners as interpreters, transcription services, and translated texts, among other methods of assistance. MVMP does offer all its services in Portuguese through the use of a Portuguese-speaking staff member and translators.

Circling back to the pandemic, Homer and BenDavid tell me that MVMP never shut down, immediately pivoting to Zoom for their services as well as their courses, which continues to be the case today, as they realized how many more people they could reach through technology.

In terms of courses, Homer is actually a case in point. “I took “Conflict Resolution Essentials” online. I was dealing with some of the issues related to the pandemic at home, and thought it would be wise to get some tools to resolve conflicts in my life. From there, “I took ‘Introduction to Mediation Basics,’ and went on to ‘Introduction to Mediation Advanced MA Qualification.’” She became a mediator, and joined the staff in her present position in 2022.

Notable among their classes, workshops, seminars, and training programs is a course that provides a safe place for managers and supervisors in a weekly confidential cohort to learn how to best manage conflict in the workplace, address issues, and enhance communication. Participants receive support and insight into their specific dilemmas, and utilize the case study model in an interactive and participatory process.

“One initiative that’s grown since I joined the organization,” says Homer, “is providing the Peace Curriculum, which is conflict resolution training in the schools. We’re working with third, fourth, and fifth graders and older children in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and the Charter School, providing up to a 10-week course that’s adjusted for each grade level. We’re communicating the critical principles of conflict resolution — to be able to listen, put yourself in another person’s shoes, and show empathy, as well as looking at ways conflicts can escalate and be de-escalated.”

Clearly, learning the basics would benefit everyone, not just young people. BenDavid explains, “So much of understanding mediation and conflict resolution is asking questions and understanding what people’s values are. Every person is different, and what drives their motivations, their fears, and what is important to them. It’s all inherently based on who they are and how they were raised. All those things that are unique to every individual.

“How many of us were brought up to think of conflict as a zero-sum game — there is a winner, and there is a loser. That’s why so many of us think that conflict is bad, and you have to stay away from it. Our programs help people understand that that’s not what has to happen. Not everyone takes our courses and becomes a mediator. Many people take them to help themselves personally. It’s a great way to add to that toolbox of lifelong learning.”

Homer agrees, “Absolutely; our vision is to create an Island of competent, capable, and effective conflict resolvers.”

To learn more about the M.V. Mediation Program, visit mvmediation.org or email info@mvmediation.org. For help with community and court issues, call 508-693-2999. For housing issues, call 508-693-2199.