Gigi McIvor, case manager, and Janie Chandler-Edmondson, executive director, review material in the meeting room of the West Hawaii Mediation Center in Waimea. (PHOTO BY LISA M. DAHM| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Executive director of the West Hawaii Mediation Center, Janie Chandler-Edmondson, gives the opening remarks and introductions at a workshop held at Anna Ranch on June 8. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Attendees to the West Hawaii Mediation Center workshop on Saturday received information from variety of speakers, including Hilo based Leilani Anzai, a financial counselor from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Hawaii. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Big Island judges, mediators, and other involved and concerned community members were in attendance at a workshop held by the West Hawaii Mediation Center on Saturday, June 8. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
An attendee to the West Hawaii Mediation Center workshop at Anna Ranch, on June 8, takes notes. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Judge Ronald Ibarra, left, and Judge Greg Nakamura speak at the West Hawaii Mediation Center workshop at Anna Ranch on June 8. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kevin Houlihan looks over notes during the West Hawaii Mediation Center workshop at Anna Ranch on June 8. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Students at Kohala Elementary and Middle schools are participants in a pilot program sponsored by the West Hawaii Mediation Center called “Working it Out!” Because of the growing instances of violence and bullying among youth, the WHMC chose the Kohala schools because of its remote location as well as the fact that students go through elementary through high school in the same area.
Sherman Warner, WHMC board of directors president, said there are students attending Kohala High School now who were trained in peer mediation while in the third grade. Because of funding, the program was discontinued until now.
“The best testimony we have is from the school counselors themselves,” Warner said. “Counselors said they could tell which kids have been trained in anger management as well as tolerance, and that the effects of the training was apparent (in their behavior).”
“Working it Out!” is a program designed and implemented by WHMC, and is a peer meditation program provided free of charge to West Hawaii schools. Not only does the program instruct students in mediation and conflict resolution skills, but it also addresses the behaviors of bullying, teasing and violence.
“We’ve succeeded in getting grant funding, and with the support of the DOE, we are really going to grow,” Warner said. “Our hope is that we can get this program in to Kona schools, especially when you read about the issues that have happened there. We know it can help turn things around.”
Designed to offer practical, age-appropriate peace making skills to elementary and middle school children, WHMC administrators believe students will not resort to violence when in conflict. Young people are taught effective communication, conflict resolution and problem solving skills to prevent violence.
WHMC services the Big Island from Ka’u to North Kohala, and from Waikoloa to Honokaa. Janie Chandler-Edmondson, executive director, said there are 45 volunteer mediators, all of whom are trained to listen and to communicate in a calm and peaceful way.
“We have mediators from all walks of life and who come from different backgrounds,” Edmondson said. “It’s a basic two-times-a-year training and anyone may attend.”
WHMC was founded in 1988 and continues to provide conflict resolution for all community members and organizations. The term mediation refers to any instance where a third party helps others either resolve a dispute or reach an agreement. And though there is a charge for mediation services, WHMC offers a sliding scale of fees.
“We have a big percentage of people who come to us who have very low incomes,” Warner said. “These are people who don’t have the access to hire a lawyer, or maybe the court system may be intimidating to them. Either they try to resolve their issues in ways they shouldn’t, or they are just stuck with these problems. We really do provide a service that is helpful and we don’t turn anyone away.”
Sometimes WHMC clients are referred by the courts. Other times people come for mediation referred by therapists, the police department or hospitals. Edmondson explained that mediation is a completely confidential process.
“A lot of stress is removed from clients when they know that in meditation, parties can say what they need to say, and it will not be held against them as it might be in a court of law,” she said.
The uses for mediation are applicable in many areas. In the workplace, disputes may stem from discrimination, grievances, harassment or wrongful termination. In the family arena, the team addresses issues such as separation, divorce, estate disputes, financial disagreements, eldercare and adult-sibling conflicts. Businesses can mediate everything from landlord/tenant disputes, business contracts, medical malpractice, personal injury and partnerships.
“We’ve been successful with custody and visitation issues in divorce mediations,” said Edmondson. “And we are beginning a pilot project with foreclosure mediations between lenders and borrowers, helping people remain in their homes.”
The foreclosure mediation program is the only one in Hawaii County, and Edmondson said WHMC hopes it will help mitigate the process.
Mediation is done in hopes that both parties can find ways to communicate fairly and create their own solutions. When both sides are directed to identify issues and solutions, rather than argue about who is at fault, then they are empowered to work through it.
“With mediation, it’s all about providing a setting and a process where people can come up with their own solutions,” said Warner. “And there is no risk — people can walk away at the end if it doesn’t feel right, the whole record can be torn up and they can go back to court. It’s all off the record and it’s really good for those involved.”
WHMC is made affordable and available by the efforts of trained volunteers and staff, and an ongoing quest for public and private funding. Their annual fundraising event this year is on June 29 at Pu’uwa’awa’a Ranch.
“There will be a tour of the ranch and three speakers at the home of Henk Rogers,” said Warner. “They’ll speak about the history and culture of the area, and there will also be food and music.”
The planned speakers are Hannah Springer, Billy Paris and Dr. William “Billy” Bergin.
Of the event at historic Pu’uwa’awa’a, Edmondson said knowing the history of a place is like knowing the history of a person.
“You then understand that person more. By learning a history, it changes your point of view and helps you know where you are going,” Edmondson said.
For those who may be interested in volunteering with West Hawaii Mediation Center, ongoing training meetings are held two times a year. The next dates for training are tentatively set for August. For more information about volunteering or to attend the June fundraising event, call 885-5525 or visit the WHMC website at whmediation.com.