The JAMS Foundation is a nonprofit organization funded entirely by contributions from JAMS neutrals and associates. The mission of the Foundation is to encourage the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), support education at all levels about collaborative processes for resolving differences, promote innovation in conflict resolution and advance the settlement of conflict worldwide.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Foundation. To celebrate, we’re looking back at some organizations the Foundation has proudly supported in the past, either through its regular grant programs or by way of the prestigious Warren Knight Distinguished Service Award, named for the founder of JAMS. This award, which includes a $25,000 grant, is given each year to one extraordinary individual or organization to recognize their commitment to preventing and resolving conflict in the communities they serve.
In 2013, the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR), located in Chicago, received the Warren Knight Distinguished Service Award. The JAMS Foundation, in partnership with the National Association for Community Mediation (NAFCM), also distributed $25,000 in grant funding over a two-year period in 2018 and 2019 to support CCR’s efforts in the area of homelessness and homelessness prevention. Finally, the JAMS Foundation provided $50,000 in grant funding to CCR in 2021 to support a pilot mediation program for select police misconduct complaints involving Chicago Police Department officers.
The Young Lawyers Section of the Chicago Bar Association founded CCR (formerly Neighborhood Justice Chicago) in 1979 to help Chicagoans resolve their conflicts through mediation. From its humble beginnings operating out of a storefront in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, CCR has grown to support program sites across the Chicagoland area. A proud member of the NAFCM, CCR has mediated more than 10,000 cases and provided conflict-management training to thousands of members of the Chicago community.
Recently, JAMS caught up with CCR Programs Director Rae Kyritsi to find out more about CCR, its mission, how it reacted to the pandemic and how the JAMS Foundation has helped it achieve its most pressing goals.
JAMS: What types of cases does CCR typically handle?
RAE KYRITSI: We work closely with legal and non-legal agencies all throughout Chicagoland and Cook County. We also work with the court system to help folks resolve their conflicts on their own terms. We mediate eviction cases, small claims cases, community cases of any kind. Anybody can call us and say, “I'm having a problem with my neighbor, my cousin, my brother, my mother,” and we will open a case—and no charge, ever, for the party. There's really nothing we won't do, except for divorce mediation. We leave that work to private practitioners. But we do work with parents who are making changes to their parenting agreement, or folks who are at the very beginning of deciding if they want to separate.
JAMS: How long has CCR been in operation, and how has it changed over the years?
RAE KYRITSI: We've been around since 1979, which is pretty incredible for a community mediation center. In the first few years, we only had a handful of cases. This year, we'll probably open close to 2,000 mediation referrals. We’ve gotten bigger over time by building relationships with community partners and the Cook County court system. But our mission hasn’t changed. Our mission has always been to help people resolve their disputes—to partner with courts and communities and neighborhoods to help people resolve conflict. But what role our agency can play in that has evolved in a really interesting way over the past few years.
JAMS: How so?
RAE KYRITSI: In 2018, we were selected to receive a mini-grant from the JAMS Foundation and NAFCM to fund operations related to homelessness and homeless prevention. Our original plan, which we submitted when we applied for the grant, was to do more eviction-mediation programs. But the JAMS Foundation and NAFCM told us, “Now spend six months figuring out what the community really needs from you”—which is how every grant should work!
I did a listening session with legal aid advocates, people who ran shelters, people from the Center for Housing & Health, the Chicago Housing Authority, the Department of Family and Support Services—tons of people came. Then I had another meeting with people who'd had lived experience being evicted, being homeless, about accessing those same services.
One of the questions we asked was, where can the skill set of community mediation enhance change—which is so different from asking, what conflicts do you have for us to mediate? With that in mind, we ended up partnering with various organizations to support shelter-diversion efforts in Chicago.
Shelter diversion is a model that is intended to meet people who are at the door of the shelter to see if there might be other resources that could support them before they enter a shelter. The idea is, if you got in a fight with the person that you cohabitate with, and if resolving that fight could get you safely housed tonight at home, then let's have a diversion officer at the shelter help you resolve that dispute and connect you to other types of resources to help. The diversion officer essentially tries to help this person who is in trauma, who is in crisis, think creatively, kind of like a neutral using mediation skills.
Where we were able to become a resource was to support these diversion officers. They do their own initial training, but then we do advanced skills training for diversion specialists who’ve been working in the field for a while. We also hold a monthly reflective practice group for diversion specialists to give them a place to process their cases, talk about best practices and learn from and teach each other. And if there’s a case that involves a bigger issue, that case can be referred to us for mediation. We were able to support half a dozen organizations in a completely new way.
JAMS: I understand there’s a new pilot program launching. Can you tell us more about that?
RAE KYRITSI: The JAMS Foundation has also provided support for our new pilot program to mediate community-police disputes. This six-month pilot program, in partnership with the City of Chicago and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, has been in development for the last several years and is expected to formally kick off in October. Funding provided by the JAMS Foundation allowed us to train 16 volunteers in a two-day advanced program in community-police mediation, and will help cover program costs for case management and volunteer mediator support during the pilot. We are very grateful for that support!
JAMS: In recognition of CCR’s decades of incredible work, the JAMS Foundation awarded the organization the Warren Knight Distinguished Service Award, which includes a $25,000 grant, in 2013. What did that grant enable you to do?
RAE KYRITSI: So many grants only want to pay the salary of someone who does direct services—which means they don't want to pay the salary of the person who has to put that grant together. What’s great about general operating grants, like the Warren Knight Award, is that they provide breathing room, so you can explore an opportunity, take a risk, try a new program or partner with an agency you've never partnered with before. When you have that little bit of breathing room, it lets you try new things and serve in new ways. And of course, it lets you support the staff that are absolutely integral but don’t provide direct services.
JAMS: How did COVID-19 affect CCR’s operations?
RAE KYRITSI: Our work has changed and evolved in really interesting ways through the pandemic. We did have a Zoom mediation program before the pandemic, but we'd only done about a dozen cases with it. When the pandemic hit, we didn't mediate for one week, and in that time, we were able to move everything online.
Then, of course, the courts were closed from March until July of 2020. It took us months to rebuild our relationships in each courthouse because some judges and clerks had moved on. But I think we've developed some amazing best practices. I am so proud of my colleagues and the way we've moved our mediation services and all of our training services into a virtual universe.
JAMS: What’s next for CCR?
RAE KYRITSI: I think the next big thing for us, especially now that we know the pandemic does not have an end (laughs), is figuring out how to make sure these systems we've developed are the best that they can be, whether they’re virtual, they're in person or they're hybrid. We need to make sure that we're doing all of these things absolutely the best we can. Now is the time to assess everything to make sure our systems really work.
We also just finished a five-year strategic plan, so we’ll know if we’re putting our resources where we really want to. We’ll be using that strategic plan over the next few months to guide and prioritize.
JAMS: Any parting words?
RAE KYRITSI: I think community mediation centers are incredible. Whenever people learn about them, they're like, “What? That exists?” We’re a well-kept secret. Let's get the word out! I encourage everyone to use these services. They’re everywhere. There are so many community mediation centers doing so much powerful and empowering work. CCR is just really proud to be in such good company.
Click here for more information on The Center for Conflict Resolution.
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