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Shining the light

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Bevanne Bowers is the executive director of Maui Mediation Services, a nonprofit organization that provides alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and training to Maui, Molokai and Lanai residents. Photo courtesy of Bevanne Bowers

The tension is palpable as the two men enter the room. They sit on opposite sides of a long conference table and glare at one another, their arms folded tightly across their chests.

“I don’t know why we’re here,” one says. “This isn’t going to work.”

But an hour later, the mood has shifted: The men are now smiling and talking animatedly. It’s as if the long-simmering conflict that brought them to this mediation session had never happened.

Bevanne Bowers has seen outcomes like this more times than she can count.

“Sometimes you need a little guidance . . . and someone to shine a light on the path,” she said.

Bowers is the executive director of Maui Mediation Services, a nonprofit community mediation center that provides alternative dispute resolution, facilitation and training to Maui, Molokai and Lanai residents. Established in 1982, it is one of five community mediation centers in the state and the only center in Maui County. It is also a Maui United Way partner agency and was selected as Maui United Way’s Partner Agency of the Year for 2019-20.

Bowers took the helm of the nonprofit six years ago. It was a somewhat unexpected career move, but arguably an unsurprising one. As an attorney, Bowers had long been familiar with the “magic of mediation.” After moving from Tennessee to Maui to start her own law practice in 2011, she took Maui Mediation Services’ basic mediation training and became a volunteer mediator. In 2015, the outgoing executive director suggested Bowers apply to be his successor. She did, and six years later, says it’s one of the best decisions she’s ever made. (She stills practices law and is a Maui County Bar Association board member.)

For Bowers, it’s more than a job — it’s an opportunity to make a difference.

“There’s no greater gift you can give than to be of service,” she said.

And her dedication to helping others has not gone unnoticed: In 2020, the Maui Nonprofit Directors Association honored her with the distinguished O’o Award as Maui County’s Outstanding Nonprofit Executive Director.

If you’re unfamiliar with the mediation process, here’s a quick primer. Mediation is a voluntary process that offers an effective and inexpensive way to resolve a dispute quickly and provides an alternative to a court proceeding.

During a mediation session, individuals entangled in a conflict work together to find a mutually acceptable solution to their problem. Each party is assisted by a neutral third party, called a mediator, who facilitates the process. Mediators do not give legal advice or determine who is right or wrong; instead, he or she works as a go-between, helping the parties get to the root of the problem, find common ground, explore all options and negotiate a solution. All mediation sessions are confidential and any information exchanged during the session can’t be used in court. However, if the parties come up with a workable solution, a signed agreement can be used in court.

Maui Mediation Services’ volunteer mediators are community members who have completed specialized training to handle a range of disputes, including, but not limited to, divorce, child custody, landlord-tenant, consumer-merchant, real estate and workplace conflict. (Bowers notes there are situations where mediation is not appropriate or will not work.) As for the cost, fees are set on a sliding scale and Maui Mediation Services will not turn anyone away because of an inability to pay.

Several times a year, the nonprofit hosts four-day, hands-on basic mediation trainings that teach participants how to manage and resolve conflict, improve interpersonal and professional communication and work effectively with parties involved in disputes who need help. Even if you don’t have your sights set on becoming a mediator, Bowers says these important skills can be used in any context — at home, in the classroom, in the workplace and other organizational settings.

The next basic mediation training will be held on Zoom from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 18-19 and June 25-26 and will include a focus on landlord-tenant disputes.

“The moratorium on rental evictions will be ending later this year and many conflicts between landlords and tenants will need to be resolved,” Bowers said. “Mediation empowers the participants to create their own best solutions for all types of disputes and our basic mediation training will teach valuable conflict resolutions skills. Those who complete the training will have the opportunity to become volunteer mediators at an important time as we prepare to help fellow Maui County residents avoid evictions.”

The registration fee is $350. There are scholarships available, as well as early-bird, student and military discounts. The deadline to apply for scholarships or discounts is Monday. For more information or to register for the upcoming training, call 244-5744 or visit www.mauimediation.org. To learn more about Maui Mediation Services, email info@mauimediation.org or visit www.mauimediation.org.

* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.

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