‘The core of our ohana’: Kuikahi volunteer mediators help prevent, resolve conflicts

  • Courtesy photo Mediators Jo Hittner, top left, and Lily Chan-Harris, bottom, prepare for a Zoom mediation with Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center Executive Director Julie Mitchell.

Every day except Sunday, Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center’s professionally trained volunteer mediators offer to help community members resolve conflicts that matter deeply — from parents figuring out how to share time with their kids after separation to tenants struggling to pay rent because of unemployment and landlords trying to pay mortgages during eviction moratoriums.

In mediation, an impartial third party — the mediators — assist participants to talk and to listen, explore options and find their own best solutions. It is a voluntary process in which clients make the decisions, in contrast to court where the judge decides.

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Like most nonprofit community mediation centers throughout the country, Ku‘ikahi relies on a pool of hand-picked volunteers to conduct mediations. A mediator must successfully complete a multi-day basic mediation training course, a one-year apprenticeship program and annual continuing education courses.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Ku‘ikahi continued to serve clients by quickly pivoting to make safe mediations possible via videoconference and teleconference. This required acquiring Zoom, webcams, DocuSign and training mediators how to mediate remotely. Each volunteer attended at least six hours of additional Zoom training to gain proficiency in using features such as having private sessions in breakout rooms and writing agreements using share screen.

“My family was very satisfied with the services that we have received!” commented one client. “Being able to keep our appointment and doing it on Zoom really was a wonderful experience as well … that way we could honor the COVID-19 ban that the governor placed on the state. We didn’t have to find child care for our children and were able to still attend our meeting without having to reschedule our appointment. Also having fillable forms to fill out, sign and get our copies was a benefit because we don’t have a printer/scanner at home. We are very grateful for mediation services and will continue to use this resource again!”

On May 1, in conjunction with West Hawaii Mediation Center, Ku‘ikahi launched the “Rapid Response Landlord Tenant Mediation Program” to provide free conflict prevention and resolution services to commercial and residential landlords and tenants. Again, the mediators stepped up to the plate, attending webinars about landlord-tenant issues during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mediators also serve the community in many other types of cases, including auto accident, business, civil rights, condominium, consumer-merchant, domestic, education and special education, family, foreclosure, friend, homeowners association, job related, juvenile, neighbor, pet, real estate, restraining orders and more.

“Conflict is an inevitable part of life and we aim to provide clients — individuals, families, students, organizations and others — with the resources necessary for creating lasting, holistic solutions that build bridges and community, not barriers and discord,” said Julie Mitchell, Ku‘ikahi’s executive director. “Mediation services are provided on an affordable sliding scale, with no one turned away for lack of funds.”

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Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center thanks all of its approximately 40 mediators, whether active during the pandemic or not. Some mediators have been with the agency for one, two and even three decades.

“The mediators are the core of our ohana,” Mitchell said. “They dedicate up to three hours per mediation to listen carefully to people’s concerns, ask questions to surface underlying issues and maintain a process that supports client-led decision-making and resolutions. They are some of the most compassionate and caring people I know. Mahalo to our peacemakers!”

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