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Mediation service helps neighbors

By Levon Kinney


HOLYOKE A new, free service provided by the city will help residents solve problems in their community. Holyoke Community Mediation Services started this past May, has already solved two cases with 12 more yet to be heard.

"The Holyoke Police were flooded with nuisance calls and were having a hard time responding to the more urgent complaints," Enix Zavalla, coordinator of the program, said. "It was started by the Peace Initiative Committee and the Police Department to reduce the number of cases in the court system."

These can include conflicts between neighboring businesses or residents, landlord/tenant problems, public interest issues, or "community intergroup conflicts."

Zavalla explained that 21trained volunteer mediators, that live or work in the area, assist the parties to arrive at their own solution.

"At this point we are focused on educating the residents," Zavalla says.

Traveling to different areas of the city, Zavalla and the mediators, explain the mediation process.

"It is more empowering since the two parties agree on a solution to their conflict, instead of going to court and having a judge rule on the case," added Zavalla.

Since its inception the service has received several referrals from city counselors, the Board of Health, the Police Department, and other residents who were aware of the program. Each referral is directed toward Zavalla, and then communicates with the parties involved.

"First we explain the program. We try to understand the basic issues at hand, determine if mediation is appropriate to the case, and make sure everyone is willing to participate. Then a mutually convenient meeting time is scheduled," Zavalla said.

During the actual session, which lasts from two to four hours and completely confidential, each party discusses his or her side of the story and his or her idea of a solution. Two mediators who are assigned to the case help negotiate a resolution between the parties which is law binding. Each person involved receives a copy of the agreement.

"If they cannot come to an agreement, the parties involved can pursue other resources," Zavalla said.

The advantages to using the mediation service, according to Zavalla, is it's convenient, effective, and free.

The service is available to all city residents and anyone who is interested in volunteering as a mediator can contact the Holyoke Community Mediation Service (413)-540-9323.

The service's brochure quotes the late Warren Burger, Chief Justice of The United States Supreme Court, "The notion that ordinary people want black robed judges, well dressed lawyers and fine courtrooms as settings to resolve their disputes is not correct. People with problems, like people with pains, want relief, and they want it as quickly and inexpensively as possible."