South Bend and Notre Dame partner for community leader mediation training

Author: Kate Chester

A spotlight was thrown on the University of Notre Dame’s community engagement and its value to South Bend in a recent three-day workshop with local community leaders.

Organized by the City’s Division of Community Initiatives, the March 21-23 training focused on developing mediation competency and was led by Laurie Nathan, director of the Mediation Program at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, part of the University of Notre Dame.

Participants represented non-profit organizations that have been awarded funding from “South Bend Alive,” a City-run grant program. The program seeks to empower community leaders with skills to resolve conflicts and inspire young adults to become local peacebuilders.

“We’re looking to build our city-wide social capital through South Bend Alive, ” said Rachael Coates, who runs the grant program for the Division of Community Initiatives.

“This workshop is an opportunity to give tools and resources to community stakeholders who work with youth in the city. Our hope is to simultaneously improve the livability of South Bend for future generations as we reduce distress and violence in our community now,” she said.

Nathan structured his training so that participants could gain an understanding of mediation skills and concepts such as conflict analysis, negative and positive peace, and the positions, interests and needs of parties in conflict, as well as a tool kit of “peacemaker how to’s.”

“Key throughout this work is an acknowledgment of the pain, frustration and anger all the conflict parties hold,” said Nathan. “Denial of belonging, affirmation, respect, dignity…all of these elements can generate a person’s pain and frustration. Recognizing this is critical for a mediator, something I stress in my training as a means to build trust and rapport with the parties in conflict,” he said.

Now in its third year, South Bend Alive selects ten local organizations as grantees, awarding up to $25,000 to each. Grantees share measurable outcomes throughout the year, a year-end report, and encourage check-in visits from the City. This year’s grantees are the Charles Martin Youth Center, Empowerment Zone, Five Star Life, Transformation Ministries (Greater Impact and Iron Sharpens Iron), Pickleball Diverse Capitol Sports, Take Heart Inc., The Music Village, Michiana Modeling Workshop, and Inspiration Place.


mediation program participants

Participants including, from left, Alexaundria Groves from Michiana Modeling Workshop; Karen West from Transformation Ministries; and Brianne Larson from Five Star Life

Karen West, director of Academic Empowerment for Transformation Ministries’ Iron Sharpens Iron program for students in 6th -12th grades, had taken several courses on deescalation techniques over her career, but this was her first mediation training.

“A key takeaway for me was Dr. Nathan's explanation of the difference between mediator neutrality and impartiality,” said West. “It was eye opening as I thought about it from the role of the mediator. Your values may not coincide with the parties’ views, but you have a duty to be fair and impartial.”

Another important takeaway for her was Nathan’s international experience working with the United Nations, the African Union, and the European Union, among other global entities.

“Dr. Nathan is able to take his vast international work in the mediation field and apply it locally, here with us in South Bend, in a way that will enable us to make our community better, healthier, happier, and more peaceful,” said West.

Brianne Larson is a curriculum specialist with Five Star Life, whose mission is to change the face of culture by changing the mindsets of youth. She appreciated Nathan’s flexibility with teaching a variety of community leaders from multiple organizations, as well as the tools he was sharing.

“We’re experiencing varying levels of a race-related culture clash in South Bend,” said Larson. “The skills and information we’re being given will equip us with the ability to handle the different types of conflicts we encounter.”