As the state dispute resolution agency, the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration (MOPC), part of UMass Boston’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, awards annual state operating grants to 12 local community mediation centers statewide delivering services through trained volunteers. Each January, through a legislative briefing at the State House, MOPC reports back to state officials about the impact the public funding has made in providing conflict resolution services to local courts and communities.
Convened by Representative Sarah Peake and Senator Adam Hinds, the briefing was attended by more than 130 people who listened to students from middle and high schools in Fitchburg, Greenfield, Lawrence, and Lowell talk about helping to resolve conflict in their respective schools and what being a peer mediator has meant to them.
Youth trained in gang violence interruption by the Community Dispute Settlement Center in Cambridge and the Boston Center for Youth and Families attended the briefing as well and were featured in a short yet powerful documentary highlighting their experiences in dealing with violence and conflict in their everyday lives. The film will be available soon on the MOPC website.
McCormack’s Dean David Cash emphasized the community mediation grant program’s return on investment. For every $1 financed by the state, $14 is returned in cost-savings and leveraged resources. He commented, “Beyond the dollar value however, the stories that were presented at the briefing demonstrated that the skills gained through training in conflict resolution and the efforts of youth to tackle social problems with these skills are priceless.”
During FY2016, community mediation centers provided free services to 83 Massachusetts Trial Court Divisions, trained 1931 community members in conflict management skills, and handled nearly 4,000 mediations in business, family, housing, juvenile, school, and other minor criminal and workplace disputes. More than 70% of cases settled (the national average is 66%) and 98% of people who responded to evaluation questions were satisfied with the process. The centers provided these services for free or at low-cost to primarily low-income underserved people through 500 committed volunteer mediators.
“On average, these grants provide 35% of center budgets. Community mediation centers would be unable to keep their doors open without them,” stressed Susan Jeghelian, MOPC’s executive director. “Although centers have come a long way towards stabilizing their operations after state funding through the courts was lost altogether in 2009, long-term sustainability is in jeopardy without sufficient funding for full-time staff.” This year’s grant program budget request includes additional funding for work with youth, families, the elderly, and pre-release incarcerated individuals and their support networks.