Nonprofit recognizes local 'Peacemakers'
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Bay Area residents who have dedicated countless hours to peacemaking, community building, and anti-violence were recently honored at the seventh annual Community Boards San Francisco Peacemaker Awards.
"These are unsung heroes doing extraordinary things," said Darlene Weide, executive director of Community Boards, the nation's oldest, public conflict resolution center. "We are coming together to be recognized for the work we do together for a safer and healthier community for all citizens."
For more than 40 years, Community Boards has worked to provide people with effective conflict resolution tools for solutions without the interference of law enforcement or the legal court system. From estate disputes to work discrimination, the nonprofit offers mediation sessions for as little as $40, which allow for constructive dialogue to generate understanding.
The theme of the June 2 Peacemaker Awards, which is the nonprofit's biggest fundraiser of the year, was "Compassion and Collaboration in Conflictual Times." The event raised about $50,000.
This year's honorees included Phoebe Vanderhorst, founder of City College San Francisco's Way-Pass: Women's Aftercare Program and Supportive Services, which aims to help previously incarcerated women earn degrees and certificates in public health fields; high school student Deena Abdelwahhab, a Muslim and active mediator at Balboa High School who strives to educate about the harm of Islamophobia and spread awareness about diversity within the Arab community; and the group A Roadmap to Peace, which advances a systems-reform initiative supporting at-risk Latino Youth susceptible to street violence.
"They are three amazing recipients," said Weide. "This is a moment to reflect on the work, commitment and passion that goes into the incredibly difficult work of conflict resolution."
The day started with a workshop led by Jessica Notini, a leader in alternative dispute resolution, who spoke to the audience of about 200 people about the power of persuasion.
The keynote speaker was Dana Curtis, a Bay Area lawyer turned mediator, who talked about the ways that conscious listening, compassion, and empathy can bring understanding to situations of conflict and divide. Her speech surrounded the political divisiveness of the nation and effective communication tools for people with differences.
"Individually I think we can take this as an opportunity to develop our understanding and how to talk to people who we assume have differences," Curtis said. "There is an opportunity in mediation to dispel a lot of that and have human beings connect to human being to understand the suffering, separation and bias that has caused pain."
Curtis said she was incredibly honored to speak at the event and emphasized how important Community Boards has been in keeping peace throughout communities in the Bay Area.
The work of Community Boards has also been very important to the LGBT community. Weide, a lesbian, previously served as the executive director of the Stop AIDS project, and is the author of "Responding to Anti-LGBTQ Bias in the Classroom and on the Playground."
She talked about the progressive community wanting to solve its own conflicts without the intrusion of authorities. Over the years, Community Boards has provided mediation to thousands of LGBT members, many of whom have faced discrimination.
"Community Boards is a really awesome place for the LGBT community," she said. "It gives people the opportunity to speak freely and openly about the harms they have experienced while making sure the other party really listens and understands the perceived harm they have committed. It's an opportunity for dialogue."
Weide also said Community Boards' 430-plus volunteers represent the diversity of the people using its services. In addition to mediation, Community Boards offers an extensive, 40-hour training program three times a year for people who want to become mediators.
For more information about Community Boards volunteer program or conflict resolution, visit www.communityboards.org.