BOSTON — Sen. Benjamin B. Downing was presented the 2014 Community Mediation Outstanding Champion Award during a policy briefing at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday.
The Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration at University of Massachusetts Boston and the Community Mediation Coalition of Massachusetts honored Downing for his leadership in establishing the Community Mediation Center Grant Program to broaden access to justice for all Commonwealth citizens.
During the fiscal year 2013 Senate budget deliberations, Downing secured funding and authored language to create the Community Mediation Center Grant Program, administered by the Massachusetts Office of Public Collaboration, which supports the work of 14 community mediation centers statewide. Community mediation is a conflict resolution mechanism that improves access to justice, especially to low-income populations who may not have the resources to advocate for themselves in court. The 14 mediation centers, staffed by over 600 trained staff, leverage federal and private investment in communities while saving cities, towns, school districts, employers and the already cash-strapped judiciary system millions in avoided court costs.
Locally, the Housing and Mediation Services Program of Berkshire County Regional Housing Authority provides community mediation services.
The grant program was extended in the 2014 budget. Advocates are currently seeking $875,000 in the 2015 budget to provide operational funding to the community mediation centers.