Dispute Resolution Center opens doors with mediation training, volunteer opportunities


Valerie Murphy-Goodrich (center) receives a Certificate of Recognition at the WCDRC holiday event. Joining her (left to right) are WCDRC Board Directors David Robinson, Siham Awada Jaafar, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen McCarthy, and Roland Samaroo.

– Photo courtesy of WCDRC

There's an old adage "when one door closes, another opens."

According to Bernard Dempsey, executive director of Wayne County Dispute Resolution Center (WCDRC), formerly Wayne Mediation Center, his organization sees this on a daily basis.

"Our highly skilled mediators work to help people resolve all type of disputes," said Dempsey. "By opening communication and dialogue between parties, we can open doors to understanding and resolution."

WCDRC, which serves all of Wayne County, is located in Garrison Place in Dearborn and is the largest of 18 community-based nonprofit mediation centers in Michigan.

In addition to providing mediation for a wide variety of domestic, general civil and school conflict issues, WCDRC offers education and training opportunities for individuals, who are interested in becoming mediators, and for schools interested in trying new approaches to discipline and changing their culture.

"We recruit volunteers from varied backgrounds including teachers, social workers, attorneys, civil servants, and from other nonprofit organizations," said Naomi Davis, WCDRC assistant director. "We also open new doors for volunteers who go through an intensive 40-hour training course that is followed by ongoing educational workshops."

As an example, Davis cited Valerie Murphy-Goodrich, who took the mediation training and became a volunteer five years ago after working 17 years as human resources director for the City of Dearborn and, previous to that, 10 years for the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

"I learned about the Mediation Center several years ago from a human resources colleague who was a volunteer," said Murphy-Goodrich. "For me, mediation training was an opportunity for continuing education. As a human resources manager, I enjoyed resolving employee disputes."

Mediation training came at a time when Murphy-Goodrich was ready for new doors to open. In 2012, her employment was terminated by the Dearborn Civil Service Commission. In the aftermath, she had filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the termination violated the City Charter and was illegal. The lawsuit was subsequently settled in her favor.

Murphy-Goodrich had taken a more theoretical mediation course in California prior to her training in Dearborn. She added, "The training WCDRC offers is very hands-on and very practical. You can utilize it immediately.

"We had about 20 people in our class and received the opportunity to study both hypothetical and actual cases," said Murphy-Goodrich. "It helped to review and analyze how the cases had been resolved."

Following her training, Murphy-Goodrich served as a volunteer mediator for WCDRC for 18 months, mediating a wide variety of conflicts, including probate, divorce, parenting time, civil rights, and more.

Three years ago, another door opened for Murphy-Goodrich when she received a call from Davis. The Center had received a contract from Wayne-Westland Community Schools to provide mediation and restorative practices in the schools. Davis asked if she would be interested in a work opportunity at John Marshall Upper Elementary School.

"I hadn't been in an elementary school since my own kids attended school," said Murphy-Goodrich. "The challenge of working with students is much different today, including bullying and social media."

State laws in Michigan also changed last fall with regard to school discipline. Schools now have to first exhaust preliminary actions, including considering restorative justice-a type of mediation where victim and offender are brought face-to-face to talk and come to a solution. WCDRC began providing schools training and facilitators in Wayne County nearly 10 years ago.

Murphy-Goodrich opened the door to WCDRC's offer and received additional training from school mediators.

"Thanks to WCDRC, my career has totally evolved. Now, I work with 10, 11 and 12 year olds, who are still children, yet starting to make choices that help determine what their futures will be," said Murphy-Goodrich. "It's very satisfying. I've learned that kids need social and emotional skills to be in place in order to tackle academic subjects."

"Volunteers and mediators like Val greatly help us extend our outreach to the community," said Dempsey, who shared that WCDRC assisted more than 6,500 people in conflict in 2017. These are people referred from numerous courts, schools and agencies in Wayne County.

Individuals interested in learning more about WCDRC and receiving more details about mediation services, training and volunteer opportunities are encouraged to visit www.wcdrc.org. Call 313-561-3500 for information about the next mediator training that will be offered in April.

Published: Thu, Mar 15, 2018