COMMUNITY GEM: Volunteer Dick Todd says successful mediation ‘downright magical’

Washington Twp. volunteer mediates difficult moments for Dayton Mediation Center

When Dick Todd is mediating a dispute, he is meeting with people in some of their most difficult moments.

Whether he is helping others come to an agreement regarding custody and visitation, neighbor issues, a family disagreement or something else altogether, his goal is the same: Empower all parties to have meaningful conversations and come to their own decisions.

“It is such a privilege to be welcomed in by these people to their deepest, heartfelt issues,” said Todd, 79. “I always feel like I get as much out of it or more than the people coming to us.”

Todd volunteers at the Dayton Mediation Center about twice each week and has mediated hundreds of cases since he began six years ago. The center offers free mediation services for those who reside, work or go to school in Dayton.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

All mediators complete 25 hours of training, and Todd has gone further, earning a certification through the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. The transformative mediation practiced at the center means that mediators steer clear of making decisions for those they work with, instead helping them reach an agreement, he said.

“Both in practice and in theory we see that when people arrive at their own decisions they have a much better chance at lasting and working than when people say, ‘I think this is what you need to do,’” he said.

Todd, who served as a Presbyterian pastor for 30 years, had experience in pastoral counseling before volunteering at the center. But while the goals are similar, he said the techniques are different. As a pastor, he would ask questions or make suggestions to those he guided. As a mediator, he avoids questions and allows parties to come up with their own ideas.

Transformative mediation is sometimes described as simple but not easy, said Michelle Zaremba, the manager of the Dayton Mediation Center. Todd, whom she nominated as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem, exemplifies the center’s mission to provide a judgement-free setting for people to find their own solutions.

“He’s definitely one of our pillars,” Zaremba said.

Laurel Kerr, a volunteer and the center’s mediation outreach coordinator, also praised how Todd mentors new mediators and supports the volunteers in their efforts.

Todd remembers one situation that involved multiple siblings and a parent involved in a family dispute. After four sessions of four or five hours apiece, there was finally a breakthrough.

“Anytime there’s a program within a community where people have a chance to be supported in a constructive way and a safe way to get at their issues, that’s a great benefit to the community,” said Todd, who settled in the Dayton area after retiring 12 years ago and now lives in Washington Township. “We do that consistently.”

Most mediations don’t last that long, and not all of them result in an answer. But when an agreement is reached, Todd knows this is exactly what he wanted to do, helping to improve the lives of others.

“When it works, it’s just downright magical,” Todd said.

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