The first full day of conference sessions has now ended, and what an incredible day it was! Read on to learn about some of the more interesting community mediation happenings occurring throughout the day.
Piping hot Starbucks in hand, I started off the morning with the luminary studded panel: "Diversity of Practice: What is the Future of Dispute Resolution?". Featuring NAFCM's very own former Executive Director and current FEMA mediator-extraordiaire, Linda Baron, the plenary engaged a series of provocative questions around the extent to which our field currently is and should strive to be process inclusive, profession encumbered, and "end-user" focused. Linda's notable inclusion notwithstanding, an acknowledgement and promotion of the community experience -- particularly our benchmark-setting work around client responsiveness, service accessibility, and mediator diversity -- seemed lacking from panelists' otherwise extensive musings. While this absence may seem more personally acute given yesterday's genuine group dialogue on diversity during the community pre-conference, I am re-motivated to work ever closer with association colleagues to ensure our community wisdom is more readily accessible and promoted within the big tent that is ACR.
Slipping next into the outlet accessible back row of the day's first session, I was delighted to see our friends at Western Justice Center Foundation presenting to a packed crowd. Their presentation: "Beyond Peer Mediation: Approaches to Deepen and Expand Conflict Resolution Education for Youth," included inspiring updates about their annual Peer Mediation Invitational (older video). This program invites up to four students and their faculty/staff chaperones from each area school utilizing peer mediation to attend a day-long gathering featuring special speakers, mock mediations with professional feedback, a peace art project, student-directed training videos, and a recognition ceremony. WJCF has refined this invitational over the years to the point where it's now the regional can't-miss peer mediation event for students and program admins alike. Soaking in the presentation details were peer-focused administrators and advocates from all walks, many of whom signed up to participate in a new conference specific resource listserve. As materials develop through this medium, I will regularly cross-post them to the related NAFCM discussion groups.
ACR Community Section Luncheon
What can I say here, but "WOW!" We had an exceptional gathering of over 20 community program administrators and mediators, all proudly donning their "Community Mediator" conference ribbons and eagerly sharing their thoughts on how to further strengthen our field. Following an update on last year's newsletter, teleseminar, and conference accessibility accomplishments, we moved on to record over a dozen insightful and inspiring project ideas to keep the Section busy and it's partnership with NAFCM strong.
Higher Education Model Standards
Not an immediately obvious next session choice given the compelling community-focused alternatives, my attendance at the "Session Reporting on ACR Higher Education Model Standards Task Force" represents an important future community connection. Over the past several months, I've had the privilege of representing NAFCM and the broader community mediation field on this ambitious Task Force. As the broader group has undertaken a learnedly nuanced assessment and visioning of standards for higher education dispute resolution programs, the practical implications of and exciting potential for community programs have been firmly in mind. In fact, an ambitious initiative to further strengthen the community/higher ed connection is in need of only time and technology for its Athenan birth. (Any interested collaborators out there?)
Capping off the session day was the delightfully unpredictable yet reliably impressive Harmon/Ennis-Benn dynamo from the enviable Community Mediation Maryland braintrust. This session outlined the design and operational considerations for Maryland's statewide prisoner re-entry mediation service. Well researched and well reviewed, the presenters recounted their dogged insistence on process integrity when designing this innovative service. By meaningfully challenging prison protocol and problem-solving with correctional collaborators, Maryland has founded a model program already flattered by a number of colleagues seeking to replicate and extend prisoner re-entry mediation programming elsewhere throughout the country. [Learn more about Maryland's experiences by listening to the Prisoner Re-Entry Teleseminar featuring Community Mediation Maryland's Executive Director, Lorig Charkoudian.]
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend all the wonderful community mediation related sessions...and fortunate attendees' high praise only deepens my regret. For example, I heard plenty of accolades for Steffanie, Theresa, and Samantha from San Luis Obispo's Creative Mediation for their presentation titled: "Developing Exceptional Volunteer Mediatiors: Implementing a Cohort Learning Model in Community Mediation Training." Similar kudos are due Jody Miller and Kristine Paranica for their informative "Screening for Domestic Violence" presentation. These and the many other timely, topical, and tantalizing sessions at this year's conference are certainly making session choice difficult!
As I prep for Friday's schedule, let me know your must attend session in the comments below and I'll do my best to provide a detailed update in tomorrow's recap. 'Til then...
Executive Director, NAFCM