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New member Conflict Resolution Services (CRS), based in Traverse City, Michigan, provides a range of dispute resolution services through mediation.
We talked with Rebecca Rogan, Executive Director of CRS, about how she came to lead the organization and how mediation helps people resolve a variety of conflicts they may face in their lives.
IS: Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you arrived at your present position.
RR: When I was in college, I thought I was going to work in the Department of Corrections for Michigan. I went on a tour of Jackson State Prison, and quickly realized it wasn’t for me. One of the first jobs I had was with the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse. I loved working with survivors of abuse, and I had an incredible boss who wanted to see me spread my wings and fly as far as I could. I worked as a legal advocate, worked as a paralegal, and then I got my master’s degree in business administration. I was a volunteer mediator with CRS before I took on the executive director role.
I completed training in conflict resolution, and after eight years or so of doing this work, I still love it. For the most part, the people who come to mediation say this is the first time someone has really listened to me, listened to what I have to say. That doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating – things like begging for money and writing grants both exhaust me, but in the bigger picture I’m glad I’m here. We have one other staff member, and the rest of our support is through volunteers – we couldn’t do the work without them (we have about 50 active volunteers, doing 3-4 mediations per year).
IS: What does a typical day at Conflict Resolution Services look like? Was there a day you remember that was extraordinary?
RR: The bulk of what we do are mediations, of which 85-90% are domestic relations mediations (people going through a divorce, who need help coming up with parenting time, adult guardianship-type issues). There is no such thing as a typical day here. A particularly memorable day was when I did my first child protection mediation. The only question on the table was whether the parents would voluntarily terminate their parental rights. In the state of Michigan, that means that Child Protective Services will not go after them if they have another child. It was a very tough case: Mom and Dad were both in prison, and came to mediation in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs. Both came from tough childhoods, didn’t learn healthy parenting habits, and were addicted to drugs. Both recognized that they were not ready to be parents now, and they had decided to terminate parental rights. They asked that we tell their kids they love them very much, and that they were doing this because they love them and wanted them to be adopted so they have better lives. Both parents wrote that this was the first time where they felt that they had been listened to. As a mediator, that was a pretty powerful experience.
I know what we do is very significant. Sometimes we have parents who go through mediation while their children are in elementary school, then again in middle and high school. They will say they appreciate having this support, because they want the best for their kids but don’t know how to do that for them. Mediators can help people talk to each other, but we always hope that they will then go on to be able to help themselves. Or if they can’t, then they will come back to us.
IS: What are some of the challenges you face in your organization and how have you responded to them?
RR: Our biggest challenge that’s not as obvious – folks just don’t understand what we do. I say mediation, and people will say, “meditation,” right? If they do have an idea, then they’re often thinking about an arbitration, or someone who takes all the information but makes the decision. We’re not making decisions. We are a neutral party helping to guide the parties to decisions. When I get that response I do use humor. Sometimes the subject matter we deal with is very serious, so sometimes it’s an emergency room sense of humor. I just try to educate them. It is like meditation. We’re sitting in a room and there’s an uncomfortable silence that we have to sit in before a breakthrough. There could even be a meditation piece of the parties asking themselves, “what is my role in this conflict?”
IS: What is one of your favorite places to be in your community?
RR: There is a place in Traverse City called The Little Fleet, a little restaurant that has a small menu with local drinks and food. During the nicer seasons they host food trucks in their parking lot and usually live music on the weekend. The owners of The Little Fleet are always giving back to the community. It’s so good, I’m torn between wanting to tell everyone about it and wanting to keep it a secret.
IS: Can you describe someone that has helped you along the way?
RR: Mary Lee Lord, my first Executive Director at the Women’s Resource Center – she passed away a number of years ago. There are a lot of people in this community who were touched by her – she knew what you needed when you needed it. She helped guide me to Western Michigan University to get a certificate in addiction counseling, and now I do presentations and trainings on how addictions might affect the mediation process. She wasn’t just a director, but a mentor, a friend, a teacher, an incredible listener. She helped me find mediation, and getting involved in doing some peace work. I now volunteer with the Meta Peace Team, going where we are invited to encourage peace-making through nonviolent means. Also, my Program Director at Women’s Resource Center, Jo Bullis, who knew grants inside and out, taught me how to write a grant and tell a story. She was the one who said we could ‘what if’ ourselves to death, but let’s just do it and deal with problems as they come up.
IS: How do you make connections in your community through your work?
RR: I do lots of talking to different groups to reach people in the community that we help. While I’m actually an introvert, I’ll go and talk to different philanthropic and social groups, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, churches, etc. I’ve probably talked to every group within 100 miles of Traverse City. I’ve also done trainings on how to communicate, how to listen, etc. to broaden our reach.
Learn more about Conflict Resolution Services in Traverse City, MI at https://crsmediationtc.org/.
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