Volunteer Perspective: Inside the WDRC's Youth Program

by Ali Raetz, Youth Program Intern


My time volunteering in the Youth Program this year has been one of the best, yet unexpected, surprises I’ve ever encountered. I first was introduced to the WDRC at an internship/volunteer fair at Western in the fall of 2017. Daniel (the WDRC's AmericCorps Youth Conflict Resolution Education Specialist) shared with me about how they work with youth to help them understand conflict and equip them with the tools to express themselves in healthy, constructive ways. I feel passionately about the importance of giving youth a voice and listening to their stories, and I discovered that the WDRC’s mission lined up with these passions. By the end of our conversation, I was practically throwing my resume at Daniel in hopes of getting involved in any way.

Luckily my enthusiasm didn’t scare him off, and a couple weeks later I was scheduled for my first class as an assistant. I’ve had the opportunity to assist in the juvenile court Healthy Choices for Girls classes, multiple conflict resolution classes at elementary and middle schools, and large group classroom presentations about understanding conflict. While I’ve enjoyed all of the different avenues I’ve volunteered with the youth programs, my experience with a small group of girls at Shuksan middle school stands out as the most impactful, challenging, yet enriching class I’ve helped out with.

There’s no denying that middle school is an extremely difficult time for everyone. Emily (the WDRC's Youth Program Manager) and I spent about a month spending time getting to know a friend group of middle school girls at Shuksan that experience the ups and downs of 6th grade together, including difficulties with friendships and following classroom rules. While they learned about conflict, communication and trust from our time together, I learned more about the importance of giving youth a space to be vulnerable and honest with each other. The same girls who in the beginning of our time together were strongly opposed to opening up or participating were asking tough questions and sharing experiences in our last few sessions.

The WDRC has also shaped and contributed to my studies as a human services student at Western. Restorative justice wasn’t in my vocabulary before my fall internship at the WDRC. However, this last quarter I worked on a quarter long research project focusing on shift in school discipline and benefit of restorative justice as a result of my time learning and teaching with the WDRC. I have discovered new passions and learned from Emily and Daniel, as well as from every student that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. The WDRC’s Youth Programs is doing necessary work teaching the next generation empathy, compassion, communication and healthy conflict strategies. I’m honored and excited to be a part of such a life-changing program.

WECU Supports WDRC Youth Program

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We are honored to announce that, thanks to Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU), the WDRC’s Youth Program has been able to provide training to the youth and staff at the Ferndale Boys and Girls Club.

One of the services that the WDRC provides includes trainings and workshops for youth in schools. We serve grades K-12 in all seven school districts in Whatcom County, with workshops on how to handle conflict when it arises, empathy, active listening, and collaborative problem solving. In 2017, our youth program reached 1,577 youth in elementary, middle, high school, and juvenile justice settings. The trainings we provide enable youth to build healthier relationships to help them thrive at home and at school.

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Thanks to a generous donation from WECU, the WDRC has been able to provide the same opportunities to the youth and the staff at the Ferndale Boys and Girls Club. The youth received a presentation on mindfulness and a class on peer leadership and problem solving. The staff at the Boys and Girls Club benefited from a training to help them manage and discuss conflict among youth.

One Boys and Girls Club staff member reflected, “I felt that my kids were really engaged and the content was easy to relate to. There was a good balance of independent reflection and group based activity.”

Many thanks to WECU for their generosity and for helping to build a community where people approach conflict in creative and healthy ways.

Welcoming Tim As Our New Americorps Outreach Vista

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Tim is joining us this year as the new Americorps Outreach Vista. He has graduated from Western Washington University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Anthropology. During his time here, Tim will be helping spread the awareness of our organizations and the events and trainings that we provide. He is very excited for the opportunity to be working with the WDRC and can’t wait to spend this next year learning everything he can from the people around him, while connecting to the various community resources that we work with to better his understanding of what is available and how he can provide the best support.  When he is not working, Tim likes to spend his time going on hikes, reading, and cooking.

Nominations Open for 2018 Peace Builder Awards

We're pleased to announce that nominations are now open for the WDRC’s 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards.

What: The WDRC seeks nominations for individuals or groups in Whatcom County that creatively resolved conflict, contributed to peaceful dispute resolution, promoted reconciliation between divergent individuals or groups, or otherwise promoted peace in the past year.
Nomination deadline is Friday, August 10th, 2018
How: Online and printable Peace Builder Awards Nomination forms are at whatcomdrc.org/peace-builder-awards and at the WDRC, located at 13 Prospect Street, Suite 201 in Bellingham. For questions or more information, contact outreach@whatcomdrc.org or (360) 676-0122.

Over the last 15 years, more than 150 individuals and groups have received Peace Builder Awards for contributions to peace building in Whatcom County. In 2017, 8 Peace Builder Award recipients were honored, including:

 Moonwater and Lindsey Karas at the 2017 Peace Builder Awards

Moonwater and Lindsey Karas at the 2017 Peace Builder Awards

·         The Homeless Outreach Team, Opportunity Council – For showing compassion and providing a great service helping a part of our community meet some of their basic needs.

·         Lindsey Karas, Sterling Meadows – For building understanding between communities and creating a source of empowerment.

·         Portage Bay Partnership, Lummi Nation and Whatcom County Dairy Farmers – For ongoing commitment to building trust and creative problem solving.

·         Bridge BuildersFor creating a safe space for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together to connect and learn.

BTV Channel 10 creates short films of each recipient, found on the WDRC’s YouTube Channel. A complete list of past Peace Builder Award Recipients is at whatcomdrc.org.

Recipients will be celebrated at the 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards on November 16th, 2018, presented by Peoples Bank. The event’s theme is people putting the pieces together for creative conflict resolution in our neighborhoods, our schools and our community. In addition to the awards, the event features music, dinner, a silent auction, and grand prize raffle. Proceeds of the Gala benefit the WDRC’s mission to provide and promote constructive and collaborative approaches to conflict through mediation, training, facilitation and community education.

“I invite everyone in Whatcom County to help us recognize those community members who inspire collaboration, embody peace, and give hope to our community.” -WDRC Executive Director, Moonwater.

Mediator Boot Camp

By Luke Wiesner, Mediation Program Manager

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a mediator with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center?  All of our mediators successfully complete our 40-hour Professional Mediation Training and then apply, are accepted, and successfully complete our practicum program.  Overall, the path to becoming and maintaining mediator certification with the WDRC takes years of continuing education and practice. 


Navigating conflict is typically not easy and can be emotionally taxing.  It is important to us that the mediators we train are prepared to serve our community during stressful times.  We host a variety of continuing education and practice opportunities for our mediators and practicum students to practice defusing conflicts and convening difficult conversations.  In April, we offered two Mediator Boot Camps to help our mediators stay in peak condition so they can hold collaborative dialogues with members of our community who are experiencing conflict.

These Boot Camps are structured similarly to the Boot Camp at your gym.  Mediators and students run through a series of drills that focus on different skills and tools mediators use to successfully help mediation clients have productive conversations.  They move from station to station practicing and learning from one another. 

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While training to help families, workplaces, businesses, neighbors, and parents-teens resolve conflict can be difficult work, we try to make it fun as well.  This year will mark our 3rd Annual Mediator Olympics, where our mediators compete using their mediation skills in an event style competition. 

We take the responsibility for being the center for dispute resolution in Whatcom County to heart and provide a rigorous training program for our mediators.  That way, when you use the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center as a third party to help manage your conflict, you know that you are receiving services from an experienced and trained mediator.

Contact us to inquire about how we can assist you in resolving your conflicts.


Welcome Leah Shearer, Volunteer

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Leah Shearer is excited and honored to be volunteering with the Youth Program at the WDRC. Her background is in Visual Culture, exploring how art can be used as an educational tool to bridge understanding, resolve conflict, and promote healing after trauma.

Her interest in these questions has taken her first to Ladakh, in northern India, to understand the speed and impact climate change has on rural mountain communities. Second, to Nepal to aid with community healing after the 2015 earthquake, and her next adventure has her headed to Greece to help with the current refugee crisis through the facilitation of circus workshops, skill shares, and play! When grounded in the States, Leah loves everything arts, music, and acrobatic. She looks forward to her time at the WDRC.

Announcing the 2018 Youth Peace Poetry Contest

 WDRC Executive Director Moonwater with the 2017 Peaceful Poetry Winners, from left: Lily W., Sylvan W., Kate G., and Jessica J.

WDRC Executive Director Moonwater with the 2017 Peaceful Poetry Winners, from left: Lily W., Sylvan W., Kate G., and Jessica J.

The Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC) is pleased to announce the launch of the 2018 Youth Peace Poetry Contest.  Sponsored by Village Books, the Youth Peace Poetry contest invites Whatcom County youth, ages 4-18, to get creative and use poetry to explore themes related to peaceful conflict resolution.  Themes of past poems have included resolving conflict, talking things out, apologizing, listening, tolerance, building peace, alternatives to violence, respect, peer mediation, and anti-bullying.

Poets are encouraged to submit between now and September 25, 2018. Winners will have the opportunity to read their poem aloud at the WDRC’s annual Peace Builders Awards Gala in November, and at a Youth Peace Poetry Reading hosted by Village Books in December.

Other ways to participate in the Youth Peace Poetry Contest include:

  • Read last year’s winning poems, on display at Whatcom County library branches all month long in honor of National Poetry Month,
  • Follow the WDRC’s social media, which will highlight youth poetry throughout April,
  • Attend the Arbuthnot Lecture at WWU on April 28th , where youth poets will present, and
  • Attend the Children’s Art Walk on May 4th , which will feature a display of youth poems (poems will be on display for the entire month of May).  

For educators who are interested in submitting poems from a class or group, the WDRC has developed a 30 minute poetry-writing curriculum. This short lesson includes an overview of poetry styles, a vocabulary brainstorm, and time for students to write and submit their poems. Educators are encouraged to contact youth@whatcomdrc.org for the free lesson plan.

The Youth Peace Poetry Contest highlights the WDRC’s Youth Program, which works to empower young people to resolve conflict creatively and build healthy relationships. Through training and mediation, the Youth Program reached over 1,500 youth in 2017.

More information, past winning poems, and submission forms 

The Power of Paraphrasing

By Luke Wiesner, Mediation Program Manager

Think back to a recent conflict you experienced.  What did it feel like physically?  How about emotionally?  Cognitively?  You may recall feeling tense or having difficulty focusing your thoughts.  Engaging in conflict can launch us into survival mode (Fight-Flight-Freeze), which sends neurochemicals and hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into our system.  Cortisol promotes communication with our limbic system (our emotional brain) and inhibits communication with our prefrontal cortex (our rational brain).  Before we can engage in a productive conflict conversation, we need to de-escalate and reclaim communication with our prefrontal cortex. 

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Whether we are in a conflict with someone else and need to de-escalate a situation we are in, or we need to de-escalate a friend, family member, or co-worker, we all have the power to help de-escalate others through active listening.  Paraphrasing is a core principle in active listening and a skill that is essential to managing conflict. 

There are two key components of paraphrasing:  summarizing key facts and reflecting emotions.

1.      Summarizing Key Facts

Summarizing may seem like a trivial tool to use, however summarizing is the foundation of being a sounding board for someone dealing with a conflict.  Summarizing key facts, ideas, and thoughts without inserting your own assumptions and judgement can help the other person organize their thoughts.  This can lead to a better understanding of the situation and empowers others to find the best way forward. 

If you are hesitant to summarize because you don’t agree with the other person, consider that it is ok to disagree with the facts and still summarize their memory of what happened.  In fact, this can be a valuable way for you to identify the disagreements or points of confusion.

2.      Reflecting Emotions

Remember, it is typical for people to jump to survival mode in conflict situations.  Oxytocin is one of the quickest ways for someone to de-escalate and remove the cortisol from their system.  Oxytocin is commonly known as “the love hormone” because it is what we produce when we are in love.  However, oxytocin is also produced when we have meaningful interactions with someone else.  By reflecting someone’s emotions, we can create an interaction and experience that produces oxytocin, both for them and for us. 

Many of the friends, family, and co-workers that we lean on for support often take our side, search for the silver lining, or try to solve our problems.  You may have heard phrases like “That’s too bad,” “Well, on the bright side . . . ,” or “You should . . .” These strategies are intended to be supportive, however typically they justify the escalation or increase the escalation.  By summarizing key facts and reflecting emotions, we are de-escalating the other person, empowering them to act, and supporting them more effectively.

It is also OK to acknowledge the emotions of the other person even if you disagree.  Validating is not agreeing, it is acknowledging, and acknowledgment promotes healthy, respectful, and future-focused conflict conversations.

Practical advice:

·         Try saying, “I hear you saying…” or “It sounds like…” when practicing paraphrasing.  Using these openings makes it easier to summarize and reflect, because it is what you naturally want to do after saying these openings.

·         Learning new communication tools takes practice.  Try to find at least one opportunity every day to summarize what someone said or reflect their emotions in non-conflict situations to develop this practice.  It will make it easier to draw upon these tools when you are in a conflict.

For more information on paraphrasing, listen to an interview with Luke on the podcast Overthinking Conflict.





Local Clubs Support Safe, Secure, Supervised Visits between Parents and Children

 One of the three rooms in which the wdrc's supervised visits take place

One of the three rooms in which the wdrc's supervised visits take place

The Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC) is honored to receive financial support for its Supervised Visitation Program from two local clubs, the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club and the Bellingham Central Lions Club.

Since 2016, the WDRC has worked in partnership with the Whatcom County Court System to provide Supervised Visitation (SV) to Whatcom County families. SV is contact between non-custodial parents and their child(ren), in the presence of a neutral observer who is responsible for ensuring safety.

The WDRC’s program is the only free, safe, and legal way for parents and children to maintain relationships where contact is otherwise disallowed due to terms of a domestic violence protection order, parenting plan, or other court order. For many parents, supervised visits are the only opportunity they have to see their children.

The Bellingham Bay Rotary Club and the Bellingham Central Lions Club have stepped up to help the WDRC make much needed upgrades to the windows in the annex space where the supervised visits occur. Bellingham Bay Rotary Club donated $2,000, and Bellingham Central Lions donated $1,000, to the project.

Thanks to the generosity of these local clubs, the WDRC will be able to install operable windows in the space. The new windows will support increased connections between parents and children by keeping children safer (for example, bees won't fly into the rooms), cooling the space down in the summer, making it more comfortable, and increasing fresh air flow, which provides health and stress-relieving benefits.

Aaron Lemperes, of the Bellingham Bay Rotary Charitable Giving Committee says, “The Bellingham Bay Rotary Club is proud to be a supporter of the important work Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center does in our community to give children and parents a safe way to stay in relationship."

Thanks to the support of community organizations like the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club and the Bellingham Central Lions, the WDRC is able to offer its mediation, training, facilitation, community education, and supervised visitation services at little or no cost to those we serve.

Reflections On A Year As An AmeriCorps VISTA

By Wes Wright, WDRC AmeriCorps Outreach VISTA 2017-2018

It is hard to think that nearly a year has passed since I accepted the position to become an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC). Looking back, I am amazed at all of the fantastic experiences I have had working at the WDRC. While I am incredibly proud of the work I have accomplished, there is still more work that needs to be done. The WDRC is now looking for another AmeriCorps VISTA to help it accomplish its vision of making Whatcom County a community in which people approach conflict in creative and healthy ways. Being an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC is a rewarding experience that fosters growth both professionally and personally and gives you the opportunity to do meaningful work with some truly wonderful people. I hope this blog will help give you some insight on what it means to be an AmeriCorps VISTA, what it is like working at the WDRC, and how you can begin to apply for this incredible opportunity.

So, what kind of work does the WDRC do, and what is AmeriCorps VISTA exactly? The WDRC offers conflict prevention and intervention services for businesses, organizations, individuals, and families in the community. It does this by offering mediation, supervised visitation, facilitation, workshops and classes for the community, and a youth program which works with K-12 schools in the county. The WDRC is a part of Resolution Washington, the statewide association of Dispute Resolution Centers. Although there are 20 other DRCs in the state, the WDRC is the only one that serves Whatcom County.

AmeriCorps VISTA is a branch of the Corporation for National & Community Service. It is often described as the domestic Peace Corps, and its main goal is to alleviate poverty in the United States. As a VISTA, your main goal is to help build the capacity of an organization like the WDRC so that it can effectively serve the community in which it is based. While you will mostly be providing indirect service rather than direct service to clients, the work that is done still has a major impact on your organization and the people that it serves. While the pay is intentionally modest, the benefits of being an AmeriCorps member include federal Non-Competitive Eligibility (NCE) after completion of your service, an End of Service Award, and first hand professional development training in a non-profit that can be difficult to come by for a recent college graduate.

My main role as an AmeriCorps VISTA was based on helping with overall outreach and fundraising for the center. My responsibilities included researching and writing grants, attending community events and providing information about the WDRC, recruiting and managing volunteers, helping plan and implement fundraisers, and much more. One of the major projects I worked on was planning the 15th Annual Peace Builder Awards, which happens every year in November. It is an event that honors individuals and organizations who have helped create peace and build community in Whatcom County within the past year. My responsibilities included contacting businesses and individuals for sponsorships and donations to the event, interviewing the Peace Builder winners for the videos presented at the event that highlight the work that they do, coordinating more than 40 volunteer roles for the day of the event, and many other tasks. This year, 301 guests attended, helping us raise over $80,000 for our mission.

While the amount I have grown professionally from the WDRC is tremendous, the amount that I have grown personally is equally, if not more, important. I never thought that co-workers could care so much about each other and feel so close. The very nature of the work the WDRC does promotes an environment where patience, empathy, sincerity, and kindness thrive. I had the special opportunity to participate in multiple workshops that the WDRC offers year round, which teach you skills on how to address conflict and difficult conversations in meaningful ways. I have been able use these skills in the workplace and in everyday life with my friends and family members. Working here has just made me an overall better person, and I can’t thank the WDRC for all that it has taught me.

Being an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC is a unique experience that I would not trade for anything else. It is challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding, and it is a great opportunity to help you grow both professionally and personally. I’m so thankful for my time as a VISTA and for the chance to work at a place as exceptional as the WDRC. It is making a real impact on the community that it serves, and we are truly fortunate that it exists.

Please, if you are even slightly interested in become an AmeriCorps VISTA at the WDRC, I highly encourage you to take the first step and apply. The deadline for this opportunity is March 25th. Follow the link and begin your journey today!