As I look back on my first full year as executive director of the Mediation Center of the Coastal Empire, I’m taking note of how much there is to be thankful for and to anticipate in the future. Some of the highlights include new imagery and a new website, which better reflect our mission as we work to cut the emotional and financial costs of disputes for thousands of people throughout the region. It is exciting to lead our nonprofit organization as we complete our 31st year of service to our community.

The observation of Conflict Resolution Month throughout October was particularly meaningful as we joined the nation in celebrating conflict resolution through a series of special initiatives culminating in an Oct. 17 event during the American Bar Association’s Mediation Week.

Working with young people in our community has been and will continue to be an important part of our work, and I was thrilled to announce our collaboration with the Chatham County Juvenile Court to provide Community Conferencing: a meaningful community-based response to juvenile crime that empowers the community of people affected by the incident. Our program, led by Mediation Center Youth Programs Director Crystal Commodore, provide conference facilitators trained to lead challenging and productive conversations.

We have been investing heavily in youth programs and continue to work directly with the Juvenile Court and Savannah Chatham County Public Schools. Our Peer Mediation program trains students to become peer mediators, equipping them with skills to help others manage conflict and hold discussions that facilitate understanding without violence. Sadly, it has become essential in our community to help youth find alternate ways to deal with emotions and issues, rather than resorting to physical confrontations.

Last year, the Mediation Center trained students in 34 schools in Chatham County and these students mediated 325 peer conflicts; we aim to exceed these numbers in 2018. Looking to the new year, we will continue to expand our Children of Peaceful Engagement (COPE) program, which is already available to residents and clients at Park Place Outreach and Greenbriar Children’s Center.

In 2017 our family law and mediation staff supported 5,600 citizens of the coastal region in navigating domestic challenges and keeping families out of adversarial court situations.

I am very much looking forward to our inaugural velvet gala on Jan. 18 at Cohen’s Retreat on Savannah’s Skidaway Road. This fundraising event, which benefits our youth programs, will feature drinks, appetizers, a raffle, and entertainment by Ricardo Ochoa & his Gypsy Jazz Quartet. Hope to see you there.