Ever had a pesky dog that won’t stop barking next door? Or does your neighbor’s tree droop over your fence and dump leave in your yard?
While these tensions may create bad blood among neighbors and lawsuits can get expensive and petty, a local mediation nonprofit seeks to find a middle ground for all involved parties.
Solve-It! Community Mediation Services, a part of The Leadership Centre in Mesa, works to find compromise for residents in the East Valley and they boast a 98 percent success rate of mutual compromise, said Wendy Corbett, the program coordinator at Solve-It!.
“Mediation is an ancient technology that has been used for centuries,” said Cynthia Dunham, the founder and executive director of The Leadership Centre and former mayor of Gilbert. “Mediation is more than one person against one person fighting over a barking dog.”
Besides solving small squabbles between neighbors, Solve-It! looks use mediation between tenants and homeowners, renegotiate HOA rules, and problems between established housing developments and neighboring planned ones, Dunham said.
While in court there is a clear winner, meditation tries to make an agreeable compromise for all of those involved.
Mediation services are provided primarily by extensively trained volunteers, often people who live in the East Valley. Frequently, the volunteers have used the mediation services themselves, Corbett said.
Mediation expenses usually cost $25 per hour, which is well under what lawyer fees can add up to, Corbett said.
“When individuals realize that this can save a lot of money, they tend to use it,” Dunham said.
“It’s very much a self-driven process,” Corbett said. “Mediation is never entered into involuntarily by any party.”
For one such volunteer, Anthony Grochowski, mediation was “offered to him” and he went with an open mind. Because all parties involved in the mediation sign a nondisclosure agreement, he could not say who, what or why he was involved in mediation.
For the last five years, the retired Phoenix police officer has been one of more than 140 volunteers with the organization. It’s the “United Nations” of volunteers, he said, since there are so many mediators with different backgrounds. Each case is best matched to a moderator who has some experience with the issue.
Grochowski has become one of the organization’s best volunteers, winning the Volunteer of the Year Award three times, Corbett said.
However, Grochowski said he doesn’t do it for the recognition, but rather because he believes in what the nonprofit does.
“Meditation doesn’t tie up the court system,” Grochowski said.
The mediation through Solve-It! is not a binding legal contract and the mediators will not testify to anything done in mediation in court if the problem isn’t resolved.
Before the mediation process even begins, Corbett suggests talking to neighbors face to face, but only when they’re not frustrated
“People have 6- to 12-feet-high walls and they drive straight into their garages,” Corbett said. “A lot of people don’t know their neighbors. We’re introducing people to the idea of talking to their neighbor.”
Getting people to know their neighbors solves a lot of problems, even before they happen, Corbett said.
“It’s a lot easier to talk to someone if the first time you met them was with a plateful of cookies and not when you are upset about something,” Corbett said.
Each mediation meeting involves three impartial people: a lead mediator, an observer (usually someone who is going to through the training process) and a note taker.
“We can’t take one side or the other — or we’ve blown it,” said Grochowski. “Yes, it’s hard to be impartial, but you’re not there to put your own input into it.”
Once mediation begins, ground rules are set and they always operate on respect, Corbett said.
Usually mediation can be solved in one meeting, and often it takes only two to four hours, Corbett said.
“As long as they are both open and willing to talk, it usually works,” Grochowski said. “I can’t emphasize enough: It all comes down to talk.”
Mediation first starts out with an introduction of all the people in the meeting. From there people share their perspective, Corbett said.
“We try to stay away from saying ‘side,’” Corbett said.
After that, both sides brainstorm ideas of how to fix it and come to a mutually satisfying situation, Corbett said.
All parties agree to a written agreement, and although it’s not a legally binding contract, it usually fixes the problem in the long run, Corbett said. Even at the six-month follow-up, people report a 98 percent success rate.
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