Welcome Alissa Ward, our new Youth Program Volunteer


Alissa Ward is our new WDRC Youth Program volunteer. She will be graduating from Western Washington University this Spring (2019) with a double major in Psychology and Communication. Alissa took an eclectic approach to obtain a breadth of knowledge in both fields; and, in particular, classes with a cross-cultural or intercultural focus. She plans to obtain a PhD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in cross-cultural and intercultural studies.

Alissa’s dream career is working with underserved communities in the United States. She hopes to make a difference by helping to reduce mental health stigma and address trauma in ways that are respectful, realistic, meaningful, and congruent with the values and worldviews of these communities. Although psychotherapy will likely be a large part of her future career, she also hopes to experience multiple roles within the field of mental health, maybe one day establishing her own center for mental health.

Reflecting on the above, it is clear to see why the WDRC was an obvious choice for Alissa to begin her professional experience. She was excited to see the Youth Program’s goals to promote healthy communication of conflict for the young people of Whatcom County. Alissa deeply believes educating our young people on how to resolve conflict in healthy ways can make a huge difference in society and in the life trajectories of these youth.

More personally, Alissa has a bi-cultural background of Puerto Rican and White American. She continues to accept and adapt to the challenge of living in both worlds. She has grown up in Western Washington, and like many, loves all sorts of outdoor activities, especially when they include her dog, Charlie, whom she has had for nine years. Her interests also extend to reading, cooking, and talking with people of diverse backgrounds.

Youth Program Partners with the City of Bellingham Police Department

"We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate and engage in problem solving with our community. This is an opportunity to support critical early intervention efforts to provide our youth with positive tools to mitigate conflict. Our vision is that this support will decrease the need for law enforcement interventions with persons dealing with conflict." - Chief Doll, Bellingham Police Department

The WDRC Youth Program is thrilled about a new partnership with the City of Bellingham Police Department to ensure Bellingham schools have access to classroom conflict resolution resources!  Did you know that in addition to a rich and expansive history of training adults (including those who work with youth within community based settings) the WDRC Youth Program has extensive and proven experience providing Conflict Resolution Education (CRE) and Restorative Justice services(RJ) for at-risk youth themselves? In 2018, the WDRC served 1,786 youth in juvenile justice, elementary, middle, and high school settings. WDRC Youth Programs are informed by best practices, providing strength-based learning, validating experiences and identities, and building effective tools within an individualized context.

We have continued to see growing demand from schools, who are increasingly utilizing our trainings as part of a prevention strategy to increase their students’ self-awareness, anger-management, and problem solving skills.

Teachers and administrators requests for training for entire grade levels has increased substantially in the last four years, providing students with a common language and strategies to depend on when conflict arises. We have also continued our small group work, offering tailored small group support to a wide range of students. 

The WDRC largely relies on community contributions and grant funding to support the program. We are so pleased to partner with the Police Department to help sustain our program.

Welcome to our new Board Member, Donna Loken

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The WDRC is happy to welcome Donna Loken to our Board of Directors!

Donna spent the majority of her professional career as the Human Resources Manager for a government contractor in the Washington DC area.   Her earlier work included a stint as a Major Donors

fundraiser for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and the HR Manager & Events Planner for a corporation. 

Donna moved to Bellingham in 2016 with her husband to be closer to their children who migrated west from Virginia, and her husband’s family who live throughout the Puget Sound region.

Donna’s interest in the WDRC began in 2016 when she enrolled in a WDRC class, Understanding Conflict.  With each WDRC class she took, her appreciation for the work we do for the community grew and she enrolled in the Mediator Practicum program.    Donna looks forward to serving the community as a Mediator and to working with the Board to continue to advance the services and reputation of the WDRC as a vital community resource.

A Message from Moonwater

Dear friends,

It feels as if every day a message in one platform or another is shared about violence in our own community, across our nation, and throughout our world. Just in the past few weeks alone, our Whatcom County community has been rocked by a random violent homicide on a local trail, and by a domestic violence homicide and a suicide within a home. Within the past few days we've learned of the atrocious murders within a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and another school shooting. There are others, as well. 

It's overwhelming and it's horrifying. Each incident is like a jolt of fresh pain, or an unearthing of an old wound. I can see that it wouldn't feel to hard to slip into a state of despondence and despair, and let a heaviness pull us into a dark place. I'm working hard in a lot of different ways to stop that from happening, and I feel a deep sense of obligation to ensure that it doesn't.

So what is the alternative? I think we need to create space to grieve for the pain and injustice, the trauma, and the hurt that that exist within our respective communities, while at the same time take action to stop its perpetuation. So how do we take action? As I reflect on this question, the answer feels like both a personal commitment, and a community wide responsibility.

One thing that I know to be true is that we need to remember, acknowledge, and carry forward our shared humanity. We need to stay connected, across our differences and throughout our communities. When we maintain and nurture connections among one another we create space for empathy, curiosity, and learning. When we are connected, we can share in one another's grief, and inspire one another's healing.

Let's remember to listen carefully, lean in to discomfort, live and breathe our values, and find ways, both big and small, to take positive, productive steps to strengthen our community. 

What does this look like? I was struck by the Jewish nurse and hospital president who compassionately greeted and served the person who had just taken the lives of so many innocent people. I was moved by hearing about so many people participating in recent local showings of "Dawnland" - a documentary examining a recently formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Maine in response to the harm done to indigenous peoples.  And today, I am inspired by the staff and volunteers here, at the WDRC, working each and every day to hold space for difficult conversations, to build skills to stay present and engaged with one another, and to facilitate connection and compassion.  

I feel fortunate to live and work in a place with such deep capacity for care and community. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." I am honored to be on that journey with each of you. 

Executive Director

Congratulations, 2018 Peaceful Poetry Contest Winners!

The WDRC is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Youth Peace Poetry Contest. This year’s winners will have the opportunity to read their poems aloud at the 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards Gala, as well as at a Youth Peace Poetry Reading at Village Books in December. Check out the winning poems below!

Lily Patterson, 9, Silver Beach

At the end of August every year the tips of my fingers grow red-cold as i pluck pearls off a bush each little sapphire heavily guarded with gold leaf they have diamond branches each lapis lazuli sphere precious to pie. The synchronized plop of a berry, then a drop of liquid silver from the heavens. drop, drop each berry i pluck makes me richer, but then, i spend it all for the pleasure of pie some find joy from licking all of the frosting off of their cupcake or eating only the pie filling, but i enjoy a crisp crust. I sit on the couch with no book to read, or pencil to draw with but i find peace with the scent of pie

Giana Mendoza, 10, Alderwood Elementary

We’re volcano’s, we erupt, and we explode, But we mean much more to the earth. If you look at us with peace in your heart you see a beautiful hill, covered with grass, flowers, and much much more. But if you look us with a cold, broken heart you see a pile of ash to be thrown away. We stand there and think about how we see others.

The Puzzle of Peace
Moana Peterson, 12, Cascades Montessori Middle School

Peace is a puzzle
A complicated puzzle
And we are the pieces

We each have a piece inside of us
A piece of peace
We need to join hands
And start making our puzzle
Join hands with friends and neighbors
Join hands with family and relatives
And maybe have a open hand
Open your hand to the plants
Who bring us of life
Open your hand to animals
Who bring us hope
Open your hand to your ancestors
Who bring us determination
Open your hand to other people
Who bring us friendship
But the only way we can do that is

Peace is a puzzle
A complicated puzzle
And we are the pieces

Through the Window
Amelia O’Connell, 15, Explorations Academy

This is coming from the one who said that if anyone talked about what happened that day one more time, I would throw a computer printer through the window.
This is coming from the one who jumped up and ran from my chair yesterday to investigate a loud noise downstairs.
Once I was completely unaffected.
Then one day, it all hit me like a freight train.
A student like me should pay attention in class and learn.
A student like me should not have to spend class strategizing their plan of escape from the classroom in case of emergency.
They should not have to figure out how to throw a computer printer to break a window.
They should not have to figure out how to run to the bookstore downtown while partially incapacitated.
They should not have to leave class ten times a day to make sure there is not a man with a gun in the hallway.
I don’t care if you think that this is their fault.
It’s not.
I don’t remember how many times I read or heard that it happened again.
Every time I would seriously consider skipping school and walking into town instead.
One day I heard that there was a shooting in my state.
That day I had to babysit for the neighbour kids.
They caught me sitting by the window, crying, and asked me what was wrong.
I said that my goldfish died.
People ask me why I don’t have opinions.
I tell them, yes! I do!
I tell them I have an opinion and a half.
If only they knew how much I want to yell at the top of my lungs.
That I want to jump onto that stage and preach with them.
To say “Listen up! Lives are being lost and we need a change!”
But when I get anxious, my voice fades out and I can’t talk.
Sometimes I can’t move.
Sometimes I faint and fall onto the ground.
But I still have hope for the future.
I have hope that someday not only will our laws change, but our mind-set will change too. This is what our country needs.
Not just the voices of congressmen or newscasters, but the voices of the people. People like me, who have never spoken up before.

WDRC Youth Program Welcomes New Faces

This fall, the WDRC Youth Program has had the privilege of welcoming two new faces. Rebecca Hargraves joined us as our new AmeriCorps Youth Conflict Resolution Education Specialist, and Alana Patterman joined us as a Youth Program intern.


Meet Becca

Rebecca is very excited to begin serving as the AmeriCorps Youth Program Specialist at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution this year! She just recently graduated from Western Washington University with an interdisciplinary degree from Fairhaven College in Psychology, Youth Development, and Social Justice. As a student, she loved volunteering to work with youth throughout Whatcom County, and she can’t wait to continue that work by serving in this position.  She originally is from Santa Cruz, CA and enjoys that Bellingham also has plenty of trees and a beautiful waterfront!

Rebecca loves the Youth Program and the WDRC’s focus on promoting healthy and open communication. She also has a passion for poetry and is excited to help with this year’s Youth Peace Poetry Contest. For fun, she loves writing, listening to music, going for long walks, cooking with friends, and catching up with her family in California.


Meet Alana

Alana Patterman is a student at Western Washington University in the Human Services program. She came to the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center for an opportunity in an internship after attending Western Washington University’s Internship Fair in winter quarter of 2017, and immediately gaining interest in what they do. She also registered for a very specific class at Western that would help her gain more knowledge in conflict resolution.

She will plan to eventually attend the mediation trainings upon graduating from Western, and hopes to continue her work within the WDRC to serve them and the community.

She possesses a strong drive for helping others, and also innately possesses a passionate desire to resolve problems. She wishes to be of great value to the WDRC and its community by helping everyone involved in it, and very much hopes to be able to use her skills to build trust and offer many resources to others.

Announcing the 16th Annual Peace Builder Award Recipients

The Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC) invites the community to join in honoring eight remarkable individuals and organizations who have helped build peace in Whatcom County. The Peace Builder Award winners will be recognized at the 16th Annual Peace Builders Awards Gala, presented by Peoples Bank, on November 16th at 5:00 PM, in Bellingham Technical College’s Settlemyer Hall.

Each of this year’s award winners represent unique and important efforts to build trust, promote healing, resolve conflicts, and contribute to a more peaceful community. The recipients of the 2018 Peace Builder Awards are:

Education Award: Jill Iwasaki
For partnering with families and communities in the Ferndale School District to address trauma, solve complex problems, and support healthy youth development

Organization Award: Skookum Kids
For connecting foster children in Whatcom County to safe and loving homes

Arts Award: Dustin Willetts and the Kulshan Chorus
For using music to “break the silence” about gender-based violence

Youth Award: Students for Action
For leading inclusive community conversations about safe school environments

Program Award: Page and the Northwest Youth Services Queer Youth Project 
For using education, counseling, and advocacy to support LGBTQ youth

Reconciliation Award: Satpal Sidhu and the Arch of Healing and Reconciliation Project
For memorializing the history, experience, and contributions of immigrants to Whatcom County

Healthcare Award: Micki Jackson 
For convening and fostering intergenerational dialogue about end-of-life and palliative care

Collaboration Award: Jared Jones-Valentine and the Unity Coal Mine Bridge Project 
For engaging community members in celebrating diversity and building neighborhood pride

On November 16th, in addition to the awards ceremony, event guests will enjoy hors d’oeuvres, a chef-inspired dinner, a silent auction and dessert dash, live music, and poems from the winners of the 2018 Youth Peace Poetry Contest. Tickets are $60 and may be purchased online or by calling 360.676.0122. Thanks to the 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards sponsors: Peoples Bank, Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC, Village Books and Paper Dreams, Rice Insurance, First Federal Bank, and Bank of the Pacific.

Welcome Janice Brendible, Supervised Visitation Program Coordinator

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The WDRC is pleased to welcome Janice Brendible to the position of Supervised Visitation Program Coordinator.

Janice has always worked in positions where she is giving back. She is thrilled to join the WDRC because it offers so many opportunities for individuals in Whatcom County to be healthy if they choose.

Janice has been a resident of Bellingham for over 20 years. She comes from Southeast Alaska and is a Tsimshian, Raven Clan. She raised her family in Bellingham, where they thrived in the Birchwood neighborhood.

When she’s not at work, Janice serves as a board member with the Birchwood Neighborhood Association, and she can often be found at the Bellingham Public Library, where she has many items on hold.

Three Things Every Manager Should Know About Conflict

By Luke Wiesner, Mediation Program Manager

Conflict Happens
Here’s a shocker.  Conflict happens and it happens at work…a lot.  We are constantly sending messages to our co-workers, whether we mean to or not.  The unusual email punctuation, the short hello in the morning, missed eye contact in passing, or the delay in email response are all communicating a message.  But is the message received always the message sent?

Regardless of the intent of the message, the message received informs how people respond.  Over time, misaligned messages can develop into a pattern of responses that lead to misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and conflict.  Because messages are constantly being sent and received in workplace relationships, each person tells a different story about what happens in conflict.  Consider the situation with Liam and Shelia. 

Liam’s story starts with his being upset that Shelia didn’t invite him to her housewarming party that some other co-workers attended.  This led him to unfriend her on social media.  Shelia’s story begins with feeling hurt that Liam stopped asking if she wanted a coffee on his morning coffee runs, which he used to ask regularly.  She understood this to mean that Liam wanted to have a more professional relationship, so she didn’t invite him to her gathering.  Shelia would later find out in mediation that Liam overheard her saying a few weeks prior that she was trying to quit coffee and he didn’t want to tempt her.

In this story, both Liam and Shelia chose a different beginning of the conflict, which portrayed themselves as the protagonist of the story and the other as the antagonist.  This is a commonly known psychological trap called confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias explains that we tend to look for evidence to support our pre-existing beliefs.  Most of us believe we are good, reasonable people, and so we look for evidence to support that belief. 

The Cost of Conflict
Conflict is normal, yet it can be very costly to organizations.  Multiple studies estimate that managers spend anywhere from 15% to up to 40% of their time managing conflict.  That’s estimated to be over $700 billion per year in hourly wages nationally…at the low end. 


Workplace conflicts create dissatisfaction and stress for employees. In turn, dissatisfied, stressed employees may gossip in order to feel validated, which escalates conflict and leads to low morale, decreased productivity, proxy conflicts, increased sick days, and higher rates of turnover.  Let’s take that $700 billion low end estimate for wages spent dealing with conflict, and add in hours lost to gossiping and onboarding new employees, and we see that conflict can take its toll on organizations.

But it’s not all bad.  Conflict can be healthy if people are prepared for it. 

Tips for Managers
1.      Be Proactive and Intervene
We know conflict is going to happen, but it doesn’t need to be something that we shy away from.  Conflict can be a positive experience that increases morale and productivity.  Managers should be proactive with conflict and intervene appropriately.  Consider these three intervention methods:

A)    Prompt employees to address the issues directly and privately: 
Letting the conflict resolve at the lowest level possible can be a great option for mild conflicts and misunderstandings.  When employees resolve issues themselves it promotes responsibility, respect, productivity, and job satisfaction.  Invite them to sit down and work it out before formally intervening.

B)     Facilitate a discussion with your employees: 
Not all conflicts can be worked out directly.  Set up a time to meet with both employees and have a clearly defined agenda so they can prepare.  Allow each employee to have uninterrupted time to share their concerns and experiences in the conflict.  Identify the key issues that need to be addressed and assist them in working through those issues.  When you intervene as a manager you may be wearing multiple hats.  If possible, keep the employees’ issues and any disciplinary actions separate.  There is training for facilitating these conversations right here in Whatcom county.

C)    Call a third party mediator or HR: 
Some disputes may require a trained third party.  You may have an HR department who can assist you, or you might need to call a consultant or professional mediator.  The cost to bring in a mediator is likely a drop in the bucket compared to what you are spending on an unresolved conflict.  Some organizations operate on a sliding scale if you are a small business or community organization.

How do you know when is the right time to intervene?  You may be unaware that a conflict exists within your organization.  If you notice any sudden changes in behavior, verbal or non-verbal communication, or work attendance, you might want to start exploring what is going on within your team.

2.      Resolve Issues AND Interests
It is important to remember that employees are people first and then workers.  We all have needs, desires, and fears.  Most conflicts exist as the issue-level – having a differing position on an issue – and at the interest-level – having unmet needs or needs violated.  We can usually see the issues more easily because they are tangible, however interests are what fuels the conflict.  In the situation with Liam and Shelia, both of them felt disrespected by the other, which intensified their issue around professional and personal boundaries.

Issues are often symptoms of unmet or violated needs.  It is essential for managers to address both the tangible issues and the underlying interests when they intervene in a conflict.  If you notice conflicts reoccurring between the same employees, it might be a sign indicating that something at the interest-level is not being addressed.


3.      Train your team
Despite the cost of conflict in the workplace, and despite the fact that 7 out of 10 employees identify managing conflict as an important leadership skill, most managers have not been trained in conflict management.  A 2008 study indicated that conflict training was the most effective predictor for how workplaces interacted with conflict.  Ninety-five percent of people who received conflict training said that the training helped them interact positively with conflict. 

Many workplaces shy away from providing conflict training to their employees because of the upfront cost.  While, it is true that most conflict training has an upfront cost, the cost to an organization for not providing conflict training is much higher.