By Leah Shriro (2004), edited 2012
North Shore Community Mediation Center (NSCMC) has its roots in the Salem Mediation Program, which began in 1979 and was housed in the Salem District Court building. At that time the Executive Director held a probation position at the court. Initially mediators, who had been trained in basic mediation skills, resolved either minor criminal cases or small claims cases referred by the judges at the Salem District Court. In 1983, the program expanded to help resolve dispute in families, usually involving adolescents and other family members. The Salem Mediation Program continued for another ten years after the director’s probation position was terminated. The Salem Mediation Program model has remained the standard today.
When the state monies that supported the Salem Mediation program dried up, several dedicated mediators established a self-governing organization that was no longer housed in the court but worked to expand mediation services into the community. In 1994, North Shore Community Mediation, Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit organization. Currently about 65 mediators belong to NSCMC; some have been involved since incorporation, some go back to the Salem Mediation Program.
From 1994 to 1999, volunteer mediators alone kept the organization running. They primarily mediated small claims disputes referred by the Salem District Court. However, these dedicated individuals also staffed the office, case-coordinated referrals, trained new mediators, raised funds and brought in new members. In 1999 the Board of Directors hired the first staff member to work a few hours a week with member mediators and student interns assisting with office operations. Since then the position has grown into a part-time Executive Director.
Also in 1999, the NSCMC Board of Directors expanded to include its own Parent/Child Mediation Service. The program received a $10,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Bar Foundation to start this initiative. Grants and contributions from the local community equaled the grant money. However, the main source of income remained fees from training courses in basic mediation given by volunteers from NSCMC. Paid community cases, such as neighbors who wanted to resolve a dispute out of court, were also beginning to trickle in. NSCMC’s work was growing!
In 2000, the Essex County Juvenile Courts in Salem and Lynn began to make referrals to NSCMC. Mediators who conducted these parent/child mediations receive specialized training to handle the often-emotional cases. In recent years the Program has also expanded in other areas and currently receives referrals for small claims, minor criminal and summary process cases from Peabody, Gloucester, and Salem District Courts.
In 1996 NSCMC began to train students in local middle and high schools to become peer mediators. The Peer Mediation Trainings have been funding directly from school systems as well as from grants and community partners. NSCMC has provided training to students and staff from the Beverly, Bishop Fenwick, Dracut, Hamilton-Wenham, Ipswich, Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Newburyport, North Shore Vocational, Peabody, Pentucket, Swampscott, and Triton-Regional school systems. NSCMC also provides mediation support and consultation services to school districts. In 2003, grants from the Essex County Community Foundation, and later between 2004-2008 from The Forest Foundation and the Office of the Attorney General provided the means to create a Peer Mediators Collaborative and sponsor an Annual Peer Mediators’ Forum on the North Shore. The Forum is a one-day event that brings peer mediators from Essex County schools together to celebrate the important work they are doing in their school community. Organized by NSCMC, keynote speakers at past Forums, which have had themes such as leadership, violence prevention, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the power of storytelling to transform conflict, have challenged the student mediators to understand the use of mediation in a much larger context. Students have heard about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, how reconciliation works in war torn countries like Lebanon, the use of peaceful negotiation in Liberia, Africa and gained a better understanding of the power of gangs in their own country. The Forum is reported to be a highlight of the year for many students. The NSCMC Board of Directors has made a commitment to continue the NSCMC Youth Initiative by supporting a part-time Director of Youth Programs and has encouraged her to seek ways to expand the violence prevention work that began in 1996. As a result of recent Anti-Bullying Legislation in Massachusetts, the NSCMC Director of the Youth Initiative has been actively working to provide communication and conflict resolution skills to partnering schools.
While the establishment of the Peer Mediation training program continued, the NSCMC Board, member mediators and staff explored ways that the Center could expand services to meet the needs of the community. In 2002, the Center received the first legislative funding for the work done in the local courts. Later in 2006, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation awarded NSCMC a grant to support mediation for civil and Parent/Child case referrals. This new source of income allowed the Center to hire a Court Coordinator to oversee the volunteer mediators, scheduling and court relations. In 2005, the Center sought and received approval to mediate case referrals from the Probate and Family Court in Essex County. With a team of experienced mediators prepared by taking an additional Divorce Mediation Training, NSCMC began offering divorce mediation to the public and upon referral from the Salem Probate and Family Court. The NSCMC Family Mediation Program has grown and serves a variety of families from the community each year as well as court referred clients. Grants from the Mass Bar Foundation from 2007-2009 helped to support this new initiative. In addition, NSCMC participates in a collaborative grant program, Parent Mediation Program, between the Mass Office of Public Collaboration, the Department of Revenue and several community mediation programs. Eligible couples can qualify for up to 6 hours of free mediation to work out issues of parenting and visitations schedules. In 2009, NSCMC was awarded a Face to Face Consumer Mediation grant from the Office of the Attorney General. As a Face to Face Consumer Program, NSCMC is available to mediate issues that local consumers bring to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office at no cost to either the consumer or business.
Potential loss of grant money and State funding is always a concern to organizations such as NSCMC. When the economy suffered the severe economic downturn in 2008, the NSCMC Legislative funding was eliminated from the budget. In addition, the Mass Bar Foundation was forced to reduce grant funding that was dependent on IOLTA revenue. This reduction in revenue forced the NSCMC Board of Directors to face some difficult challenges. The Center reduced staff hours and cut the budget, while making a strategic decision to continue to provide the same level of services to the community, schools and courts. This also marked the start of major fundraising plans to support the growing needs of communities across the North Shore.