West Hawaii Mediation Center Receives Challenge Grant From eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar and the Hawaii Community Foundation

The West Hawai‘i Mediation Center (WHMC) has been awarded a $25,000 Challenge Grant from the Omidyar ‘Ohana Fund of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation.  The grant will be used to support mediation services and conflict resolution education for youth in West Hawai‘i.  In order to receive this grant WHMC must secure matching funding by December 31, 2011.  “This is a huge honor for us,” said Janie Chandler-Edmondson J.D., Executive Director.  This grant is an opportunity for us to increase our capacity.  It has been a challenge to meet the increasing demand for services, and without this grant we would be unable to serve the growing community need.”

PHOTO: Courtesy West Hawai'i Mediation Center. Left to right: seated, George Robertson, Sherman Warner, Chris Helmuth; standing, Janie Chandler-Edmondson, William Chillingworth, A.K. Shingle, Holly Algood, Steve Bess.

A low or no-cost provider of mediation services to individuals, small businesses and communities since 1988, WHMC has seen a marked increase in clientele over the last two years.  “Especially in this economy, our client base has grown as the need has grown,” said Chandler-Edmondson.  “There are more people who don’t have access to legal service, and may not be able to hire an attorney for divorces, custody issues, landlord-tenant disputes and similar issues.”

“We’ve seen great growth in the mid to lower income segment.  About 50% of clients make less than $25,000 per year,” said Chandler-Edmondson.  “It went up from 30% in just the last year or so.”

In addition to its other services, WHMC has designed and implemented a Peer Mediation program called “Working it Out!” to help empower children with effective communication and conflict resolution skills.  Research shows that school-wide programs can reduce teasing, bullying and violence in elementary and middle schools by as much as 50%, with early intervention and continuous support.

“We have worked with teachers and counselors in several North and South Kohala Schools to set up school-wide mediation, mentorship and communication workshops, and we have numerous requests for the program,” said Chandler-Edmonson, “but expansion is limited by funding support.”

Serving between 700 and 800 clients per year, WHMC uses a sliding scale fee basis to provide service to people at every income level.  With a client satisfaction rating of 90%, they are able to help people resolve disputes without necessarily involving the court system.

“63% of cases end in agreement,” said Chandler-Edmondson.  “And although people don’t always reach an agreement… with mediation, they have the opportunity to speak and be heard.”  In other words, even in the cases where parties “agree to disagree,” people can reach an understanding without having to bring the issue before a court of law.

“That’s empowering!” said Chandler-Edmonson. “The court can make decisions for you, but in mediation the parties create resolutions tailored to work in their own lives.  When people are able to resolve disputes themselves, when they learn to communicate effectively, they can build on that for the future, and that helps build better communities.”

“The mediation process is about creating a safe space where parties can talk in a calm way, and work towards a solution,” said Chandler-Edmondson.  “Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing.  Conflict is an opportunity for two people to create a positive, constructive resolution to something that is not working… Without conflict nothing would change.”

With a team of 48 trained volunteers, two full time staff and an active Board of Directors, WHMC  is a non profit organization and member of Mediation Centers of Hawai‘i.  Training and refresher training sessions take place several times during the year and are open to everyone.

“Anyone willing to learn to listen to what someone else is telling them and to help communicate that to other people,” said Chandler-Edmondson.  “Anyone can be a volunteer mediator.  We have realtors, therapists, insurance workers, teachers, lawyers… Your background doesn’t matter, because people are not looking for advice.  What our team does is help people figure out how to communicate with each other in a safe place where people can talk and be heard.”

In order to receive the grant, WHMC must secure matching funding by December 31.  The Center is enthusiastic about this opportunity and has dedicated fundraising efforts to meeting the challenge.  Contributions will be used to support mediation and conflict resolution education services and will be acknowledged as a matching donation to the Omidyar ‘Ohana Fund Challenge Grant.

For more information, please call WHMC at 808-885-5525, email info@whmediationcenter.org or visit www.whmediation.com.