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Mediators with Eastern Oregon Mediation Center work to help clients hammer out their own voluntary solutions to their troubles

Mediators with Eastern Oregon Mediation Center work to help clients hammer out their own voluntary solutions to their troubles

LA GRANDE — When you’ve got a conflict with someone and you think there’s nothing left to do but get mad, get even, or go to court, stop and think again.

Jill Finney, director of the Eastern Oregon Mediation Center, wants people to know that it pays to sit down with an adversary, talk the problem out, and try to come up with solutions that work for both sides.

“Almost all disputes come down to communication,” Finney said. “A lot of times, it’s just getting people to talk.”

Finney oversees a small but dedicated force of volunteers who help people in Union, Baker and Wallowa counties resolve disputes that arise in day-to-day life.

Those disputes might involve debt, issues with a family business, problems between a landlord and tenant. They could involve neighbor-to-neighbor arguments over parking, property lines, property damages, pet and animal control.

They might even veer into family matters. Though the center does not mediate divorce cases, it has helped improve family relationships, including those between parents and teens.

And that’s not all the center does. Through an Oregon Housing Authority grant, it mediates issues between landlords and tenants in manufactured home parks. It doesn’t handle eviction cases that have been referred to court for action, but it can help with negotiations that might head off an eviction.

The center also has a contract with Union County Circuit Court to mediate small claims. As a matter of routine, mediation is offered as an alternative to going before a judge.

“We do all small claims cases, unless a party declines,” Finney said.

The local center is a part of Resolution Oregon, a network of 12 community mediation centers operating in the state.

It gets some support from the Union County Sheriff’s Office and the Union County Board of Commissioners, but most of its funding comes from the University of Oregon School of Law. Clients pay for mediation based on income, so services are affordable for everyone.

The center was founded in 2002. Finney, who also works as the Union County program manager for Eastern Oregon Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), stepped in as director in 2021. She said a good deal of her time is spent recruiting and training volunteers.

t’s a big job, and not an easy one. Mediation center volunteers are required to pass a background check, then undergo 40 hours of basic mediation training. After that, they observe three mediations, and then conduct three with a trainer present.

“The volunteers are amazing and we couldn’t do this job without them,” Finney said.

In order for a mediation to go forward, all the people involved in the issue must agree to take part. Sessions might be handled in-person, virtually, or by phone. A successful mediation is one that ends with a written agreement voluntarily signed by all the parties.

The mediators aren’t attorneys, and they aren’t arbitrators. Rather, they are community members trained to help clients work out their own voluntary solutions to their troubles.

Read the complete article here.

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