Volunteer mediators help find peaceful resolutions

Upstate Mediation Center has offered fixed-cost or free mediation services for 20 years

Upstate mediation center
Jessica Christophillis volunteers as a family court mediator for Upstate Mediation Center. Photo by Will Crooks.

Court can be intimidating, particularly when someone is facing a stressful situation like a divorce or child custody case, says Jennifer Olmert, Upstate Mediation Center’s executive director. When you add a financial hardship to that – like the cost of court-mandated mediation – the burden grows.

“People with low incomes were forced to hire mediators, and that was an expense they couldn’t do,” Olmert says of when family court began mandating mediation two decades ago.

So, in 1999, UMC opened its doors to provide a fixed-cost or no-cost alternative.

In the following years, UMC continued to expand its court services – now including family, magistrate, circuit, and probate – and community services – landlord/tenant issues, neighbor conflicts, and most recently police-community mediation.

UMC can offer these flat-fee services through grants, donations, and a committed base of 80 volunteers. Jessica Christophillis, partner at Christophillis & Gallivan, is one of those dedicated volunteers who’s been volunteering as a family court mediator for several years.

“I walk into every mediation, whether it’s my client or I’m the mediator, saying, ‘I love mediation. This is an opportunity to get it done,” Christophillis says.

Christophillis cites the strong volunteer base, the fixed cost, and the time savings as some of the center’s appeals. But most importantly, she says, mediation gives participants a say in their future.

“Oftentimes, even though it’s an adversarial process, they [the parties] have some of the same core values or some of the same things they want,” Christophillis says. A mediator is a neutral figure who listens to both parties and “thinks outside the box” to arrive at an agreement, she says.

Finding that resolution is satisfying for volunteers, too. “You have two people who are telling you what they want,” Christophillis says, “and to be able to get as close to that for both of them as possible, it’s just really rewarding.”

UMC’s Peacemaker Award will honor community member

To commemorate Upstate Mediation Center’s 20-year history, the organization is establishing the Peacemaker Award to recognize a member of the community who has made a significant difference in promoting tolerance, building good will and understanding, resolving conflict, and striving for peace.

UMC will be accepting nominations for the first annual award on their website starting in July. The first honoree will be recognized at the Annual Upstate Conflict Resolution Awards on Oct. 15. Local artist Ryan Calloway is constructing a bench that will have each year’s winner’s name engraved on it. The bench will be in a soon-to-be determined location in downtown Greenville.

“We’re hoping we can recognize and celebrate a person not just this year, but every year, a person in our community who is bringing about out peace and understanding,” says executive director Jennifer Olmert.



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