When an argument becomes a full-blown dispute, the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC), winner of the 2014 Bellingham/ Whatcom Chamber of Commerce & Industry Nonprofit of the year, is here to help. Their mission statement reads: “To provide and promote constructive and collaborative approaches to conflict through mediation, training, facilitation and community education.” Executive director of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center Moonwater Withrow said, “We help to deconstruct conflict so we can better manage it.”
The WDRC has been offering their services to community members since 1992, and serves thousands of people each year. All services are payable on a sliding scale ensuring that no person is ever turned away for an inability to pay.
Mediation is a collaborative conflict resolution process offered through WDRC. Situations the WDRC handles include family conflicts, neighborhood disputes, small claims mediation, and foreclosure. Withrow said that they recently received a grant from the city to help support parent-teen mediation. This form of mediation helps parents and teens with communication issues, curfew issues, life plans, and reconciliation for runaway youth. She added that they are also introducing elder mediation to help families discuss and find resolutions to issues surrounding the elders in their lives.
Another new program being offered is restorative justice, which Withrow described as a philosophy of thinking differently about the justice system by asking different questions. She asked, “For example, who has been harmed and what obligations are formed from that harm?” She added that traditionally the justice system recognizes a crime and aligns that with a punishment. Restorative justice allows for mediation between the victim and perpetrator, creating an atmosphere of reconciliation and peace-building.
The training workshops offered through WDRC include the following seminars: Helping Children through Family Changes, Co-Parenting Communication, Understanding Conflict, and Professional Mediation Training and Certification. WDRC also offers youth programs to help teens have the confidence to resolve conflicts. Withrow said, “A misconception is that the services we have to offer are only for certain people and certain times in their lives.” The reality is that WDRC provides, “conflict prevention and conflict intervention accessible to everyone in Whatcom.”
The annual Peace Builder Awards and Gala were held on November 20th. This year’s Peace Builder Award winners included Bruce and Cyndi Shepherd (the president of WWU and his wife), Heidi Alford for her work with the Bellingham Community School, Geof Morgan for his work with the Whatcom Family and Community Network, George Guerro, who has dedicated time and resources to helping those in need at the Lummi Nation, and Mehar Singh for the youth award. Institutional winners include the Bellingham Public Schools, the Care Transition Nurses, and the Whatcom County Support Officers. Withrow said, “My favorite thing about being a part of WDRC is dealing with disputes in an effective and respectable way and making a difference in the community on a daily basis.” So the next time a conflict in your life starts to heat up, the WDRC is ready.