As the state dispute resolution agency, the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC), part of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, has awarded fiscal year 2017 grants totaling $600,000 for continued operation of local community mediation centers statewide. As a result, these centers will be able to continue to deliver important free and low cost local services to primarily low-income citizens. Trained volunteers will mediate disputes ranging from consumer, neighborhood, family, school, and housing, to work-place, and minor criminal and juvenile cases.
Now in its fifth year of grant program administration, MOPC awarded state operating grants ranging between $33,000-$55,000 to 12 mediation centers which comply with MA standards for robust community mediation, the level of services provided, and the achievement of targeted goals.
In addition to operating grants, MOPC, awarded community project grants totaling close to $50,000 which will allow a subset of centers to continue development of much-needed services to prevent youth violence and build skills in peer mediation.
“Grant applications continue to reflect the incredible efforts made by the centers and their dedicated staff and mediators to provide services to their local communities. In particular, this year has seen a dynamic increase in collaboration among centers around training and quality assurance initiatives which are fully supported by the grant program” said MOPC Executive Director Susan Jeghelian. She added that “as demand for services grows and community mediation centers increase the range of needed services, the importance of continued legislative and other financial support for the grant program remains crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability of these centers”.
These grants allow the centers to provide free services to over 70 local court divisions and parties from all 14 Massachusetts counties for close to 4000 mediations annually. “This program aligns with the vision and values of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at UMass Boston—developing initiatives committed to service, access, quality, and diversity,” says David W. Cash, dean of the McCormack Graduate School.
New services included partnering with police and schools around violence prevention, breaking the school to prison pipeline and addressing cyber-bullying, and developing programs with small businesses to address destructive inter-staff conflicts. Around access, centers used public access television to spread awareness about their services and developed facilitation and conflict coaching services to parties for early intervention before conflict escalates. In building quality, centers introduced new training topics like mindfulness to engage and support their trained volunteers and employed videotaping techniques to develop self-awareness skills for new mediators. To increase diversity among their volunteers, staff, and boards to reflect the communities they serve, centers partnered with agencies representing minority populations on recruitment, referrals, translation of materials, training and outreach, and continuing education around bias and cultural awareness.
The Massachusetts Community Mediation Center Grant Program was established by statute (G.L. Ch. 75, s.47) in fiscal year 2013 to provide a stable, performance-based funding mechanism for investment in community mediation as a cost-effective public service that broadens access to justice for MA citizens. The Program is grounded in best practices, promotes excellence, and incentivizes diversification of funding. MOPC’s annual program evaluation reports have demonstrated a return on investment for the state of $9 million annually.
According to State Senator Benjamin Downing and State Representative Sarah Peake, the lead champions of community mediation in the Legislature, state investment in community mediation has paid off incredibly well: “For every $1 dollar invested by the State in community mediation through this grant program, there has been $15 returned to the State in cost-savings and leveraged resources.”
As part of its core mission, the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration facilitates and promotes the use of mediation and consensus building within government and communities and creates broad access to dispute resolution and quality services for all citizens of the Commonwealth. MOPC also conducts research and training to build capacity within the state and advance knowledge within the mediation field.