HOLLAND — In the early 1990s, Holland was searching for a better way to respond to civilian disputes.
Through the work of Alberto Serrano and newly trained volunteers, Mediation Services was launched to do just that in 1993.
Since then, the organization has changed countless lives in Ottawa County and continued to grow, first expanding into Allegan County in 1996 and then into Barry County in 2019.
The nonprofit, housed on Lakewood Boulevard, provides a safe, neutral environment guided by trained mediators to resolve differences and find solutions.
As the organization celebrates three decades, they do so having changed countless lives. Whether through marriage restoration or divorce, landlord/tenant disputes or restorative justice, the organization has seen quite an impact.
“For a long time, it was really an organization of volunteers and then just a director and volunteers and as we expanded and grew, we’ve continued to bring on staff,” said Executive Director Cathy Anthofer-Fialon.
That means adapting, too. When the pandemic started, the organization, like so many others, pivoted and began mediating via Zoom.
“It was really a blessing in disguise because we realized, for some of our clients, it’s really difficult to get away to go to a mediation,” Anthofer-Fialon said. “… We are getting away from using physical spaces for mediation.”
Today, there are 115 volunteers working for the organization, about 40 of whom Mediation Services depends on heavily.
All mediators go through a rigorous training process to ensure they’re prepared to handle whatever comes their way. It’s not an easy task, but it’s valuable.
“I hear from mediators that some of the toughest situations are those family situations,” Anthofer-Fialon said. “People aren’t going to come out getting everything they want, but mediators can feel good knowing they came together and talked and came to some kind of decision.”
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