Working It Out // Islanders Help Resolve Disputes

By Dana Thompson

We all have conflict. Whether it’s with our spouse, partner, children, co-workers, neighbors or friends—at some point, we all disagree with someone. Luckily, most disputes end peaceably and the relationships remain intact. Sometimes, however, it takes a little outside help to find mutually acceptable solutions.

The Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap County, in Old Town Silverdale, provides that outside help. The agency offers third-party mediation to settle disputes that otherwise might end up in court.

Maybe it’s because we come from an island where getting along is essential, but about a third of the DRC’s trained volunteer mediators hail from Bainbridge. Conflict candidates for mediation include property disputes, divorce proceedings, child-parent conflicts and workplace disputes. DRC services are available on a sliding scale to anyone who needs help. DRC clients are generally a mix; people either self refer and seek help with conflicts they can’t resolve on their own, or are directed by a judge to seek mediation prior to a court hearing.

Although mediation sessions are confidential, one participant had this to say about her experience: “It was a relief to express my feelings in a comfortable, safe environment where everyone was listening to me, and it reminded me to be a good listener in return.” Mediation sessions take place either at the DRC office in Silverdale or at the County Courthouse in Port Orchard.

“Alternative dispute resolution offers a world of difference to the clients,” said Bainbridge attorney and City Council member Kirsten Hytopoulos, who has volunteered at the DRC as a mediator for the past two years. “Mediation is much healthier and less destructive than a court experience. The clients retain more control of their process and can come up with creative and durable solutions, giving them a better chance of retaining their underlying relationships going forward.”

The DRC was originally started in 1990 by a group of attorneys, professional mediators and educators to give neighbors and friends a safe non-legal vehicle to peacefully solve conflict. It has since grown into a successful 501(c)(3) nonprofit, with nine paid staff and over 80 volunteer mediators, offering a number of community services throughout Kitsap County, and is one of 19 dispute centers statewide that operates under the Washington State Community Resolution Statute.

The goal of the DRC is two-fold: to help people find a peaceful resolution to their problems, and to help alleviate the burden on the public legal system by resolving cases that would otherwise end up in court.

“Mediation can offer a big win-win for everybody involved,” said Carrie Thompson, who is the DRC intake specialist and small claims administrator, as well as a volunteer mediator.

The first step to becoming a DRC volunteer mediator is to take the agency’s 40-hour basic mediation training. The program is recognized throughout Puget Sound, and many people take the training simply to become more effective administrators, parents, coaches, or just better people, with no intent of becoming an actual mediator.

Those who do choose to become certified mediators then focus on specific areas of mediation, such as family mediation or foreclosure mediation, and participate in a qualifying mock session with more experienced mediators to become certified. In any actual mediation, there are two co-mediators present, and a newer mediator is always paired with a more experienced mentor mediator.

After taking the initial DRC training and becoming certified five years ago, Bainbridge writer and parent Steve Palay found he had a knack for mediation. “I wanted to learn something useful and do something that would be helpful,” said Palay, who now regularly participates in family mediation and acts as a mentor mediator. “When you sit down with people, you never know what will happen. We [the mediators] are there just to help people go through whatever process they are going through. It is very humbling and very rewarding.”

To find out more about the DRC, visit kitsapdrc.org or call 360-698-0968

Working It Out // Islanders Help Resolve Disputes

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