Guest blogger, Dick Todd, is a retired resident of Dayton, Ohio who spent nearly 30 of his working years as a Presbyterian Pastor and Denominational Executive. He enjoys gardening, reading, and wood sculpting. Dick has been an enthusiastic volunteer with the Dayton Mediation Center for about a year.

I retired when I was 66 years old. For most of my working years I was a Presbyterian Pastor, so it seemed quite natural for me to find ways to serve through volunteering. Finding something that matched my interests and energy level while clearly trying to be of help to those in need proved more difficult than anticipated. After volunteering with a Suicide Prevention Hotline, Hospice, and a domestic violence program as Volunteer Coordinator and Chaplain as well as leading a Domestic Violence Initiative in a local congregation, health issues and some level of frustration found me back at square one. That’s when a dear friend offered me …
… A Suggestion
Recognizing that I had resigned from a domestic violence initiative, a church member seemed determined to keep me busy. She emailed me three ideas, only one of which seemed remotely interesting to me. She thought I might enjoy serving as a volunteer mediator with the Dayton Mediation Center. Having retired to the Dayton area six years before, I confess never to have heard of the Center but it sounded a bit intriguing, and so I checked it out on the internet and made a call, which then led to….
… An Interview
An interview? Seriously? I had to prove I was fit enough to be one of their volunteers? Well, so be it. They must take this pretty seriously! The staff sent those of us who had shown interest in being part of the Spring, 2017 class a list of questions, one of which was to be submitted in writing while the others would be asked during the interview. By this time, it had been more than a decade since I’d had a job interview. I couldn’t help chuckling at myself that there was a bit of nervousness going into the experience.

The two veteran volunteers who conducted the interview, however, helped me feel comfortable, and I truly enjoyed the hour I spent with them. A few days later I received notification I had gained acceptance into the spring class, joining about twenty others who agreed to go through twenty-four hours of….
… Training
Until my first Thursday evening of training, I had never before heard the title, “Transformative Mediation.” Like undoubtedly most, if not all of my co-trainees, I thought mediators listened to both sides and then made decisions. By the end of that first training session, two things had become very clear. 1- Transformative Mediation bore absolutely no resemblance to my preconceived notions of what I’d signed up for. And 2- This training was not a crash course in how to do our jobs; rather, it was indoctrination into a concept that would require me to unlearn as much as I needed to learn.

The training occurred over two evenings and two Saturdays. I came home each time feeling challenged and, especially on the Saturdays, TIRED! I was impressed from the start that the Center was not simply teaching us skills. There was a decided emphasis on the uniqueness of the concept leading me to conclude that if you didn’t grasp the concepts, you probably wouldn’t carry out the skills very well. Boy, did that ever prove to be true!

The training was done by Trisha and Janet, both of whom were outstanding in their ability to teach and their willingness to listen to and answer our endless questions. Thinking back on it, I picture them running a relay race during which the baton kept being passed from one to the other effortlessly without ever losing stride. It was impossible to resent the amount of time for the training when the material was so fascinating and the trainers were so accomplished.

What was positively cage-rattling, however, were the inevitable role plays. Transformative Mediation is not a spectator sport, and we were not given the luxury of staying on the sidelines for long. I remember at one point, when I was thinking it was about my time to volunteer to mediate in a role play during one of the first training sessions, thinking, “Do you really want to do this? Volunteering’s supposed to be fun – this is terrifying!!!” My fears were quickly allayed, however, when I realized all of us were making mistakes and with a practice that is so totally outside of our previous experience, the miscues were inevitable. We were not chastised when they came, but rather encouraged to learn from our fuzzy practice of reflecting, summarizing, and checking in.

As we kept learning and kept practicing, I became aware, somewhat embarrassingly, that something was creeping into my experience with the Dayton Mediation Center –
(Go on to Part 2 here)

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