Life is filled with conflict. It impacts all of our lives. Yet it is how we chose to handle these disagreements that can make all the difference. Midlands Mediation Center (MMC) volunteer Pat Brandon serves our community by guiding disputing parties along a path to resolution. What a priceless gift she offers!
Pat spent her 34-year career as a school counselor working with many at risk students. She wanted to make a difference in the lives of these kids by reducing the number who came through her doors as disciplinary referrals. She believed that peer mediation might be a solution. So, Pat went through a 40-hour training program offered by the South Carolina Bar Association. Soon after she implemented a peer mediation program with a group of 5th graders, the school experienced a 10% reduction in disciplinary referrals.
Pat saw firsthand the value of peer mediation skills and decided to go one step with her training. She next attended a 40-hour training program for mediators. At that time she became aware of the work of MMC and decided to get involved.
Since its creation in 1998, MMC has provided high-quality, affordable mediation services to hundreds of individuals, families, and businesses. More than 90 highly trained mediators, like Pat, sift through the facts, emotions and individual interests of disputing parties to determine the real issues. By maintaining an unbiased perspective, they are well positioned to offer innovative approaches that can lead to positive outcomes.
Mediators are great listeners and communicators who are skilled at guiding people through the conflict resolution process with neutrality, confidentiality, sensitivity and fairness. MMC mediators do not make decisions or provide legal advice or advocate for either party. They empower those in conflict and honor their choices.
MMC provides court-annexed pre-trial mediations for Richland, Lexington and surrounding counties’ Magistrate Court, as well as Family Court referrals. The organization also provides community mediation, which is designed for interpersonal disputes between friends, neighbors and family members. These mediations may include such disputes as separation, child custody, divorce, property damage, consumer complaints, landlord-tenant, employer-employee and real estate. In addition, MMC will assist with group facilitation for multi-party or large group issues.
Another invaluable service offered by MMC is conflict resolution training. This training is designed to improve individual communications skills with the goals of building a better understanding of conflict, how to facilitate a group, build an effective team and solve problems. MMC has provided this training to a number of organizations including the Richland County Human Resources Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department Next Steps Program, Transitions, the University of South Carolina Housing, College Place Neighborhood Association and the United States Department of Agriculture.
There are many benefits of mediation. It saves time, money and reduces the potential for additional conflict. The process itself allows individuals to express themselves in a better way. Mediators like Pat must pay attention to what the parties are saying and what is NOT being said. Helping disputants better articulate their feelings, can give them more control over the outcomes and allow them to reach a mutually agreed upon solution. It is an empowering process.
“Mediation is really hard work, since the majority of us tend to shy away from conflict. Through the mediation process people are challenged to engage in conflict productively. It can be such a gratifying experience when it works. If everyone had these skills, the world would truly be a much better place,” concluded Pat.
Over the past year Midlands Mediation Center has conducted 130 pre-trial mediations and 200 family mediations. For more information please visit www.midlandsmediation.org or contact Sondra Stephenson, executive director, at (803) 714-1176 or Sondra@midlandsmediaiton.org.
Photos by Kimberly Campbell