Don't argue with your neighbors, talk...

Petworth resident Caroline Cragin leading a mediation training session

by Yuliya Panfil

Mediation comes to DC with a kickoff meeting on April 5th at Petworth Library.

Attention, Petworth residents: whether you’re mad about stolen daffodils, or dealing with more serious issues like family disputes or prison re-entry, you’ll soon have a new outlet to air your grievances and hopefully find some solutions.  

Petworth resident Caroline Cragin has started Community Mediation DC, a neighborhood mediation program modeled after successful mediation centers in Maryland. The program is still in its infancy, but already has a website and a core team of volunteer staff who are ready to take cases.

Caroline is holding a community dialogue at the Petworth Public Library on April 5th at 7pm to talk about the community mediation movement, think through what a community mediation program should look like in DC, and share conflict management tactics.

Mediation is an informal conflict resolution process in which the parties to an argument discuss their issues before an independent, neutral mediator. The process focuses on letting people express their grievances and arrive at solutions, rather than passing judgment on who is right and who is wrong. The advantage of mediation is that it avoids the cost, time, and risks inherent in a formal court proceeding, and also gives parties a greater chance of preserving their relationship and arriving at an amicable solution, rather than dragging their dispute through the courts. 

Plus, Caroline says, “There’s a lot of data that shows that when folks come to their own solutions, they tend to last longer.”  

"Community mediation," the low-key mediation style Caroline espouses and is hoping to popularize in the neighborhood, works by providing free mediation training to community members who then serve as volunteer mediators in their neighborhood. Interested parties call an intake number to sign up; mediations are held in neutral location, usually in the neighborhood.

Petworth resident Caroline Cragin leading a mediation training session

Because community mediation training is free and open to the public, it creates a larger pool of mediators. It also offers a “cousin factor”: when several community members are trained in mediation, chances are that many will have "a cousin, or a neighbor" who is familiar with the practice, making mediation less intimidating. 

Interestingly, while more formal mediation is not new in Washington DC, the District does not yet offer any community mediation programs; Community Mediation DC would be the first. Instead, trained community mediators from DC – Caroline included - travel to one of the 17 Community Mediation Maryland locations to offer their services. 

“There are already folks in DC who have been trained on this model and currently mediate in Maryland but want to mediate in DC,” Caroline said. “So, we’ve been plotting about bringing this to DC.” 

Caroline herself has a background in education, and became involved in mediation through her efforts to “hold a space for dialogue [in schools], instead of jumping right to punishment.” She was trained as a mediator at the Anne Arundel Conflict Solution Center in Annapolis, and has been mediating cases, many of them custody disputes and prison re-entry cases, ever since.  

“What I love about mediation is that it’s a safe, non-judgmental space where I’m not getting advice from anyone, but rather folks are there to let me feel heard,” says Caroline, who herself has used mediation before to assist with an employment dispute.

Caroline plans to begin free mediator trainings this spring. To find out more about how to be trained as a mediator, or to take advantage of mediation services, write to, visit or attend the Petworth Library workshop on April 5th.