In the mid-1980’s, a nationwide movement was underway to provide dispute resolution alternatives to the legal system and/or police intervention. In December of 1984, Community Boards, a highly successful San Francisco-based community mediation program, put on a workshop on community mediation programs. Three members of the Salem community attended the workshop: Bryan Johnston, Willamette University Law Professor, Dr. Roy Patton, Chair of the Salem Human Rights Commission, and Janet Hawkins, staff person in Salem’s Community Development Department.
The three delegates returned enthusiastic about creating a community mediation program. They believed the basic program they learned about could be adapted for use in Salem. Jan Alsever, another Human Rights Commission member, joined to help initiate the adaptation. In January of 1985, some 30 leaders of community organizations that dealt daily with conflict situations were invited to a planning session. Groups represented included the Women’s Crisis Center, Salem Police Department, Legal Aid, and Salem-Keizer Schools.
The group met to formulate a basic structure to fit the needs of Salem. The main goal was to offer all members of the Salem community a free, convenient, workable program of volunteer mediation. Also important was the desire to provide training that would empower each mediator with skills to resolve informal neighborhood disputes. Parties involved in those disputes could themselves learn dispute resolution skills and pass them on to yet others.
With the basic plan agreed upon, a Board of Directors was selected and liaison members were designated from city and county law enforcement agencies and City of Salem staff. September of 1985 marked the first Board training for the neighborhood mediation project. Brochures offering the concept and services were distributed by December 1985. The Board began working on its first priority — educating the Salem community that Neighbor-to-Neighbor mediation services were available. This is still an on-going effort today. Salem Neighborhoods, Inc., and Legal Aid provided the seed money for the initial publicity campaign, and subsequently a grant was received from Gannett.
In 1987, legislation was introduced establishing a dispute resolution advisory council. This coincided with the development of the Dispute Resolution Center at Willamette University, headed up by Bryan Johnston and Susan Leeson. In 1989, the Oregon Dispute Resolution Commission (ODRC) was created. One of its charges was to promote and assist community mediation programs throughout the State. Funding to enable this effort came from surcharges generated from county court fees. The Commission also set standards of mediator training for community-based programs.
In 1992, Neighbor-to-Neighbor applied for and received support from the State through the ODRC grant, and from the County in the form of in-kind office space at 216 High Street NE. Neighbor-to-Neighbor became a non-profit organization of the State of Oregon and is authorized by the IRS to receive tax-deductible contributions.
Angie Schwartz was hired as the first paid staff and the office was officially opened in April 1992. In November 1992, Angie left and Alice Wells was hired as Program Coordinator. The first newsletter, Let’s Talk, was published in December 1992.
Since receiving the ODRC grant in 1992, Neighbor-to-Neighbor has expanded services to include the entire Marion County community. Neighbor-to-Neighbor continues to recruit and train volunteer mediators in basic mediation training classes conducted about once a year. In 1993, Neighbor-to-Neighbor attempted to open a satellite office in Woodburn and trained Woodburn volunteers to provide community mediation. The Salem headquarters eventually absorbed this satellite operation.
In September 1993, a group of volunteers received additional training to start a Juvenile Victim/Offender mediation program in partnership with the Marion County Juvenile Department. Pre-adjudication cases are referred to Neighbor-to-Neighbor through this program. In September 1994, another group of volunteer mediators received additional specialized training to begin the Adult Victim/Offender mediation program. These referrals are from the Marion County District Attorney’s Office. Neighbor-to-Neighbor also provided training in 1994 for a group from Western Oregon University who subsequently set up their own mediation program on campus to assist students and staff.
In February 1996, Drinda Lombardi was hired as Administrative Director, increasing the staff to two part-time persons. A Conflict and Me 3-hour training program was developed and is available for presentation to community groups. The training provides tools to individuals to deal with conflict in a positive way. Neighbor-to-Neighbor volunteers also conduct this training as requested.
In January 1997, Neighbor-to-Neighbor entered into a new partnership with the State of Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, and continues to receive funding from the department’s Manufactured Dwelling Park Program to provide mediation services for people residing in manufactured dwelling parks on an as needed basis.
From April 1998 until late 2001, funds were available for additional Youth & Family mediation training and staffing. The mediation process included a co-mediation model for an adult and peer mediator to work together at the table. For a time the funding for this program was provided by the Marion County Children & Families Commission. It is currently not funded but continues to be a service available through the general program.
Mona West became the Executive Director in November 1998 when Drinda departed. In September 1999, Carolyn Berry succeeded Mona as Executive Director and conducted a program of Peer Mediation Training in the Stayton High School. Cory Mathews came on board as a Youth & Family Program Coordinator while funding continued.
David L. Leavenworth was hired in December 2000 as Executive Director. Alice Wells served as succeeding interim director from March 2002 until August 2002 when Sophia Douglas accepted the position at .75 FTE. Neighbor-to-Neighbor also employed Sheri King, a .4 FTE program assistant, and Tina Schweickert as a program coordinator.
The Oregon Dispute Resolution Commission was abolished during the 2003 state legislative session. The Community Dispute Resolution Center program was moved to the University of Oregon Law School. Neighbor-to-Neighbor continues to operate under a biennial grant from the Oregon Office of Community Dispute Resolution (OOCDR), with funds generated from county court filing fees. The grant program is now administered through the U of O Law School.
Sophia Douglas and Sheri King left Neighbor-to-Neighbor in August of 2004, and Sandy Kristiansen stepped in as a Program Director. In October of 2004, Dara Benton was hired as a Program Assistant. In July of 2005, Rhonda Horn was hired as Director of the program after Sandy moved out of the state. Dara Benton left Neighbor-to-Neighbor in September of 2005 to return to university full-time. Rhonda Horn left the organization in February 2007, and Sam Hall filled in as Executive Director for several months until Charles F. Ikard (Charlie) was hired as Executive Director.
Neighbor-to-Neighbor currently maintains a roster of approximately 40 trained volunteer mediators and case developers and handles, approximately 18 cases per month. Many volunteers take on an even greater commitment of their personal time through serving on the Board of Directors, training new mediators, training community groups, speaking at outreach activities and serving on various committees. They come from all walks of life but share a common belief in the ‘magic’ of mediation.
The stated purpose in the original Bylaws is identical to the stated purpose in the Bylaws today. While office spaces, board members, volunteers, and staff members have come and gone, breathing constant life into the community dispute resolution vision, the basic purpose and concept remains unchanged. Neighbor-to-Neighbor Purpose:
- To support the voluntary and participatory resolution of conflict
- To foster acceptance of responsibility by the individual and community for conflict and its peaceful resolution
- To provide a forum for resolution of these disputes and training for volunteers to assist in this process
- To foster the philosophy that conflict has positive value and can be used for beneficial change
- To further develop a sense of community
Neighbor-to-Neighbor handles approximately 200 cases per year, receiving referrals from law enforcement, housing authority, private attorneys, Marion County Juvenile Department, neighborhood associations, community and code enforcement, dog control, manufactured dwelling parks, schools and other local government agencies. The time, effort, commitment and vision of individuals serving on the Board of Directors over the years, in the volunteer ranks, and as staff, is a testimony to the effectiveness, value and the constancy of alternative methods of dispute resolution.
In December of 2010, Neighbor-to-Neighbor was asked by the board of Linn-Benton Mediation Services to consider providing mediation services to Linn and Benton Counties as LBMS was financially bankrupt and would be ceasing operations. Neighbor-to-Neighbor Board of Directors considered the request and authorized Board President (Sam Hall) and Executive Director (Charles Ikard) explore the feasibility of expanding services to Linn and Benton Counties utilizing existing volunteer mediators previously working for LBMS. In February of 2011, Neighbor-to-Neighbor had secured adequate funding to support the expansion and restructuring had begun as of February 24, 2011.
In February of 2012, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 1552, which required lenders to mediate with borrowers prior to foreclosing on their residence. The new program was named Foreclosure Avoidance Mediation Program (FAMP), and sought input from many stakeholders prior to its implementation in July of 2012. Executive Director Charles Ikard represented the Oregon Association of Community Dispute Resolution Centers on the workgroup tasked with making recommendations to the Attorney General during the rulemaking process. Charlie was also named to the Attorney General’s advisory committee for the FAMP to provide ongoing program input from the Community Dispute Resolution centers in Oregon.