Windsor

'An alternative to going to court': Family Services Windsor-Essex launches new community mediation program

A community mediation service five years in the making launched Tuesday, promising to help Windsor-Essex resident resolve conflicts with family members, friends, as well as co-workers, roommates and even landlords.

The volunteer-driven program will provide mediation services as a way of resolving all manners of conflict

Family Services Windsor-Essex executive director Joyce Zuk says the new community mediation program will help families, friends, co-workers and even landlords and tenants resolve disputes. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

A community mediation service five years in the making launched Tuesday, promising to help Windsor-Essex resident resolve conflicts with family members, friends, as well as co-workers, roommates and even landlords.

Run by Family Services Windsor-Essex (FSWE) in collaboration with St. Clair College, the new program relies on 20 community volunteers to help residents resolve interpersonal conflict.

"Folks can reach out to us by phone or by email. A brief intake process takes place, where we're going to ask a few questions about what that conflict is to make a determination whether the type of conflict … is appropriate for mediation," said Joyce Zuk, executive director at FSWE.

If the conflict is deemed program-appropriate, two volunteer co-mediators will get in touch with all involved parties in order to set up a time and place for mediation.

Zuk said volunteer mediations are "from many different walks of life," and aren't necessarily individuals with legal expertise. 

Elizabeth Strutt-MacLeod is coordinator of the paralegal program and the social justice legal studies program at St. Clair College. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

Elizabeth Strutt-MacLeod, coordinator of the paralegal program and the social justice legal studies program at St. Clair College, explained that the volunteers are "well-established in the community and [have] all kinds of different roles and capacities with all kinds of different backgrounds from different cultures with different languages."

Additionally, though St. Clair College students will aid in administrating some aspects of the program — and will also be able to shadow mediation sessions with permission — Strutt-MacLeod said that none of the current roster of mediators are existing students.

"Our current students will have the opportunity of taking part in training at a future date also to become mediators," she added.

Before embarking on any mediation, however, volunteers must undergo approximately 21 hours of training to handle conflict.

Jody Bridgewater, a social worker, volunteer trusteeship worker and volunteer mediator with FSWE said she was excited to go through program training.

Our current students will have the opportunity of taking part in training ...- Elizabeth Strutt-MacLeod, St. Clair College

"It was at times overwhelming … because the skills that you need to be a mediator are pretty vast," she said. "You need to be able to look for signs and cues and be able to step in and take breaks."

Bridgewater added that it's not uncommon for mediation to take several hours, even for a single session, because working through conflict requires time and patience.

"And when necessary, sometimes it needs to be stopped and you might have to reconvene on a different date, and that's OK," she said. 

Though Zuk said she's not sure how many people will utilize the service, she said the program is nonetheless necessary because it eliminates the need for genuine legal intervention — something that isn't always an option for those seeking conflict resolution.

She pointed to instances of elder abuse or financial abuse as examples of situations when legal intervention isn't always the best solution to interpersonal issues.

Jody Bridgewater wears a number of hats at Family Services Windsor-Essex, but she's also one of 20 volunteer mediators. (Tahmina Aziz/CBC)

"Oftentimes … the senior parent is very reluctant to take legal action against their son or daughter, and we found in those cases mediation can be very effective to stop the abuse from taking place, to resolve the conflict, but also to maintain the relationship," Zuk said. 

Strutt-MacLeod echoed Zuk's comments.

"People need an alternative to going to court … because not all disputes have a legal basis even to them," said Strutt-MacLeod. "Our feeling is that it's important to be able to help build relationships and rebuild relationships."

She said that mediation is able to facilitate rebuilding fractured relationships. 

"Even if you don't come to a [resolution] that day over that specific dispute, even if people agree to disagree, the positive part of having had that mediation is that we're now empowered those individuals with skills and the ability to be able to communicate again with each other."

FSWE's mediation services are free, and the organization began accepting requests for mediation on Tuesday. 

With files from Tahmina Aziz

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