Mennonite Mission Network staff
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Kansas City Kansan/Mennonite Mission Network) — They say good fences make good neighbors.

But what if the neighbors can't agree on what type of fence to build, or if one thinks the fence has encroached beyond the other's property line? What if their kids or pets don't stay on their side of the fence, or make too much noise?

That's when neighborhood conflict resolution comes in.

Many people aren't well versed when it comes to resolving conflict at home or in their neighborhoods. It could be said we're not much good at it in a global level, either, for that matter.

Joel Goering has been instrumental in forming the Rosedale Conflict Resolution Center, a service that began in Rosedale but is now spreading its area of service countywide. They are inviting referrals for this free service from all over Wyandotte County.

Goering recently spoke to representatives from Liveable Neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan. Several have already expressed an interest in his services and also in taking classes on the subject for use in their own communities. Goering hopes to expand these courses to community leaders, police officers and others who serve the public.

The process involves developing skills that one can use in addressing issues in their own homes, as well, between spouses or parents and children.

Goering joined the Rosedale Development Association in September 2004, through Mennonite Voluntary Service, a program of Mennonite Mission Network. The program places young people in areas where they can do service work, mostly working with not-for-profit groups.

"There are four of us in the area serving in agencies like Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity and RDA," Goering said. "It's a win-win situation. The agencies get affordable staffing, the young people get experience in a field of public service and the church gets its community service programs funded.

"When I first arrived, Wendy Wilson (director, RDA) asked me what I was interested in doing," Goering said. "Conflict resolution came up and we focused on a way to help people resolve problems. Everyone experiences conflict.

"The high number of homicides in the metro area can be attributed to the fact that many people resort to violence instead of resolving conflicts," he said. Sometimes conflicts are allowed to exist for many years.

"Most murders involve people who know each other and their conflict spirals and escalates out of control," he said. "I researched information and compared to other programs in the metro area."

The resulting program has been operational in the Rosedale area, and he feels it is just about ready to expand.

"Conflict resolution involves the process of coming to a resolution, but not with the result," he said. "Those mediating parties come up with their own results. The facilitator helps parties to listen to each other, clarify issues and brainstorm ideas. Mediation does not coerce an agreement between parties."

When a person calls him to ask for help, he talks to each party separately by phone before he meets them face-to-face, to get an understanding on what the problems are, as seen by each side.

"It's not for everyone," he said. "If there is a history of violence or an unequal balance of power, mediation is not appropriate for every conflict. In those situations, we need to explore other options.

"If it is determined that mediation has a chance, the parties select a neutral location and time to meet."

A form is signed that both parties agree to mediate, and if they reach an agreement, they sign a document spelling out what they have agreed.

"If they ever do go to court, they have a document showing what they had previously determined what to do," Goering said.

Sometimes, by the time people go through conflict-resolution proceedings, the conflict has gone on for years. They are entrenched in their positions, believing that they are totally right. When they reach an impasse, sometimes court is the final step.

Police or code enforcement people sometimes refer parties to the program.

"I respond back to them, telling them that the parties have reached an agreement, but I don't give details," Goering said. "Confidentiality is important. Each party gets a copy of what they have agreed upon.

"We want to teach these skills to others in community groups so they can do their own conflict-resolution neighborhood programs," he said. "The skills involve effective listening, paraphrasing to let each party know you 'get it,' and ways to develop empathy. It's akin to disciplines of therapy."

Wilson says MVS has worked well for her agency.

"It is awesome," she said. "We have done this for six years and have had a number of different volunteers. Everyone has been wonderful. They become part of our team and it is cost saving for us. It is a full-time employee. I always let them follow their passion and heart. This was Joel's passion and the neighborhood needs it.”

Joel Goering was born in Kansas City but grew up in Silver Springs, Md. He is a Bethel (Kan.) College graduate. His home congregation is Hyattsville Mennonite Church. 

Reprinted with permission from the Kansas City Kansan.







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