New group trains mediators to resolve disputes

March 10, 1994|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Sun Staff Writer

A Severna Park resident cuts down a tree on his property. His neighbor explodes, claiming the tree was on his. They could end up exchanging words, blows or time in small-claims court.

Or they could turn to the Anne Arundel Conflict Resolution Center, a new organization that doesn't even have a meeting place yet but plans to be open by May.

Margie Bryce, director of the new group, explained its operation to the Greater Severna Park Council Tuesday night.

"Mediation involves having neutral third parties help two people or groups in conflict work through their disagreement," she said.

Her first goal is to establish a network of trained people to act as neutral third parties and mediate conflicts in every community in the county.

So far, she has recruited 30 volunteers, who have received half of their 40 hours of training from the Main Street Mediation Center in Laurel. For the first six months, the AACRC will provide its services free, then begin charging fees to cover costs, Ms. Bryce said.

Mediators will not offer counseling or give advice, Ms. Bryce said. Instead, they will help the parties seek their own answers and direct them elsewhere if other information, such as legal advice, is necessary.

And they won't take divorce or custody disputes until they get more experience, Ms. Bryce said. They will concentrate, instead, on landlord/tenant disputes, conflicts between a parent and a teen-ager, and disputes between neighbors or businesses.

"It doesn't always work, but it's amazing how people can come to a resolution with the aid of a logical process and a skilled mediator," Ms. Bryce said.

"We don't pretend to think teaching conflict resolution will stop murder or many violent crimes, but it does teach people they are in control and have a responsibility for their own disputes and solving them."

In addition to providing mediation, the AACRC hopes to persuade the county to offer conflict resolution training in county schools.

In a survey by the National School Boards Association released in January, 61 of 729 school districts reported having conflict resolution and peer mediation programs.

"Many school districts are looking for ways to teach students to curb their violent impulses before they act on them," the survey said.

In Maryland, the Sheppard Pratt Hospital Community Education Program has been helping schools and universities adopt conflict management programs since 1989.

Some schools already offer conflict resolution training. This spring, Belle Grove, Brooklyn Park and Park elementary schools are offering a seven-session program focusing on prevention education, including conflict resolution, for children ages 6 to 11.

The AACRC hopes such programs will be expanded to include every school, Ms. Bryce said.

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