Mary Hellwig is a mediator and a facilitator of restorative justice processes. She has identified empowerment as one of the many benefits or impacts of mediation and alternative dispute resolution. Empowerment, in this context, promotes and strengthens participants’ self-determination to lead the charge for peace and social cohesion. It keeps participants moving forward in the process to determine their own future.
It has the power to bring a resolution that works for all sides,” Mary told MBBI during an exclusive interview on December 20, 2018. She believes that mediation helps parties to identify practical and flexible solutions that are reflective of their competing needs, demands, and interests. “It is a win-win. It helps people to find their voice and enables them to move forward,” she noted.
Mary specifically stressed the “healing power of mediation.” In these processes, the emphasis is affixed on you (the participant)—your role and contributions are invaluable aspects of these processes and their outcomes.
Personally, Mary has experienced the “healing power” of mediation firsthand. She fought a silent, internal battle that was deeply rooted in a work-related dispute that started in the early 2000s. This conflict eventually led to her parting ways with her employer at the time. “It became increasingly clear to me that I couldn’t stay [at that job]. I was not skillful enough in dealing with the conflict. My personal anger was barring me from listening and talking to others. I realized that I had hit the wall, and needed to grow more,” she said, admittedly.
In her search for healing and inner peace, Mary found solace in seeking knowledge and wisdom. She trained in nonviolent communication with Marshall Rosenberg, and circle communication (The Way of Council) with Jack Zimmerman and another with Kay Pranis. She also trained in community mediation, civil and divorce mediation, as well as a variety of restorative justice processes like Family Group Conferencing and Victim-Offender Dialogue.
She began to use these skills in her work with several nonprofits in the St. Louis area as well as volunteering with local court processes in restorative justice. One highlight of all that work was being able to attend and co-present, with a St. Louis colleague, a workshop on Restorative Circles in a school setting at MBBI’s 2015 Congress in Bucharest, Romania. She was inspired by its theme: “Courageous Conversations and Dangerous Dialogue.”
Listening to the stories of other peacebuilders at that conference, intrigued Mary beyond measures: “I was totally in awe from the stories of other peacebuilders. I was so moved by what people had experienced. And this made joining MBBI exciting.” That opportunity instantly attracted her to MBBI. She joined thereafter and quickly became an active member of the organization’s Child and Youth ADR Working Group.
MBBI Helps Continuous Growth
Mary felt that she was thrown again into personal imbalance with the last United States presidential election “I realized that I was afraid and out of fear, grew angry. I felt that I was unable to get beyond my personal anger. I just felt that I couldn’t talk about it.” Listening to what other MBBI members are experiencing elsewhere around the globe has contributed immensely to Mary’s healing process:
Listening to other peacebuilders deal with even bigger issues and seeing the level of integrity they bring to that has helped me a lot. Seeing other people who have been through difficult circumstances and are able to talk about it continues to inspire me.
Mary is happy that MBBI has “exposed” her to issues around the world that she “didn’t even know about.” Additionally, MBBI’s monthly webinars are helping to further bridge the gap between Mary and her inner peace. She says MBBI is inspiring her “to keep growing.”
Community Conflict Services
Mary Hellwig possesses knowledge and experience in family group conferencing, a restorative justice process for families that experience separation due to abuse and neglect. She is also skilled in community mediation, using circle communication in a variety of situations and victim-offender dialogue.
She currently directs a Missouri-based nonprofit that seeks to advance the use of Restorative Justice practices and community mediation in the state’s St. Louis area. The Community Conflict Services of Metro St. Louis has developed and implemented a restorative justice program, based on Talking Circles, for schools. Talking Circles, according to Mary, are used to build communities in the classrooms. They empower students to experience the power of being able to have a say. These processes work to increase caring classroom climates and healthier school communities. Teachers receive hands-on training in the use of circles and CCS’s staff accompany them in circles throughout the school year.
An article by Fatoumata Bility, MBBI Writer & Peace Synergist