During a time where difficult topics are causing divisiveness, one local organization is providing a safe space to have healthy conversation.
"Being in conflict is emotionally draining, can be expensive, and takes a great deal of time. The Mediation Center provides a third party to mediate or facilitate a process whereby the parties are heard, can discuss their issues, brainstorm solutions, and reach an agreement," says Jill Cheeks, Executive Director of The Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire.
Formed in 1986, the local nonprofit was created to resolve neighbor to neighbor disputes and empower citizens to manage conflict with others.
"The Mediation Center is a community resource for citizens from Chatham and surrounding counties to resolve conflict outside of a courtroom. We provide a safe trusted space with a mediator to help facilitate the conversation to resolve disputes such as neighbor to neighbor, contracts, family law matters such as divorce, parenting plans, and workplace conflict," Cheeks said.
The Mediation Center has developed their services to fit the current social and political climate. In response to the many events of this year, they created "Living Room Conversations" in an effort to foster healthy communication and engagement.
"From police reform to social distancing, our communities are experiencing diverse yet strong stances on many topics that strongly impact us every day," Cheeks said.
"Over the past few months we've seen increased interest from people wanting to speak out about current events. Living Room Conversations provide a space for people to share their thoughts, expand awareness, develop their opinions, and engage with a variety of viewpoints."
These conversations take place in the form of "discussion sessions." There is no expectation outside of ensuring that this is an event where people can congregate around a select topic.
"Living Room Conversations are not designed to have a specific outcome but are intended to encourage civil discourse and the sharing of diverse viewpoints. Increasing understanding can build empathy and promote community healing," says Cheeks.
The Mediation Center has also made certain that the sessions are safe for all to attend by hosting them online.
"Participants join us in our Zoom Living Room during this time of heightened social distancing. A Mediation Center facilitator introduces the topic and poses discussion questions. Approximately 6-12 participants share their thoughts in the discussion," says Cheeks.
They’ve also adapted their other various resources into a virtual format to keep them accessible for the local Savannah community.
"As with all local businesses, the pandemic has presented new challenges for the Mediation Center at a time when people needed our services as much as ever," Cheeks said.
"Fortunately, our staff and volunteers have risen to the occasion and local citizens still find our resources accessible. The most significant change we made is providing virtual services for mediation, facilitated conversations, family law services, and our youth programs."
For those interested in participating in upcoming "Living Room Conversations," visit https://mediationsavannah.com/livingroom/ for more information. Some examples of topics being featured in future sessions include "Anxious Around Re-opening...for You and Your Family," with facilitator Elizabeth Kehoe and "Empathy is not Endorsement", with facilitator Jamila Mandilgilla.
"The Mediation Center is here to encourage healthy communication as a tool for conflict resolution," Cheeks said.
"Living Room Conversations provide an opportunity for us to encourage communication outside of traditional contentious legal matters. Encouraging discussion is an important tool for better understanding our neighbors and working alongside our colleagues. Our community will be stronger and healthier with every opportunity for increased communication."