Sitting with Vicki Martin on the balcony of her home in Olympia, overlooking the beautiful water, it is obvious that volunteering is part of her soul. Her entire being lights up when speaking about the lives she has touched and the difference she makes each day. Her passion for helping others learn how to peacefully interact and solve conflict is just one of the reasons why the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County (DRC) chose Martin for their Volunteer of the Year award. She was honored July 27 at the DRC’s annual picnic recognizing their volunteers for all their hard work.
“Vicki stood out because she applies our principles in every facet of her life, not just what she does with the DRC,” says Joe Sanders, a fellow member of the DRC.
The DRC is a non-profit organization that relies on volunteers to carry out its mission of finding ways to foster peace in our community actively. Their emphasis is on encouraging people, as their website suggests, to “find positive ways through conflict.” Vicki’s work embodies the DRC mission.
In March 2011, Vicki took the DRC’s initial training after a former supervisor talked about it. She ultimately left her job and decided she wanted to volunteer with a focus on educating. She volunteered with the DRC, Hands On Children’s Museum and Washington Center for the Performing Arts. Her main advice to someone thinking about volunteering? “It’s okay if you are nervous or think you can’t do it.”
“When I took the 40-hour DRC training, I told the lead trainer that I wouldn’t be able to do some of the exercises because I was so terrified of public speaking,” Vicki explains. “She said, ‘just do what you’re comfortable with.’ So I did. And now I stand up in front of people and talk and train.”
The DRC training lead Vicki to her true passion. “Once I started the DRC training, I really loved it,” she says. “I loved the idea of facilitating a conversation and not being the authority in the room and not giving advice. I loved it. I went through all of the DRC levels of training.”
After the training Vicki started working at the small claims court. There she has the chance to help people learn how to live together peacefully through “speed mediation.” She recalls one particular case where two neighbors had been fighting. At the courthouse the ladies made threats against each other, one even implying that she wished to kill the other’s dog. Vicki knew she had to step in. She sat down with them and talked things out with the two women for a bit. She then left to finish up some other work.
“When I returned, the two women were blocking the exit of the courthouse, hugging,” Vicki says, her eyes filled with emotion. “This is why I do this. I like to connect with people on a personal level, and the DRC provides me with this vehicle. It allows me to support them and provide them with the opportunity for profound change should they choose it.”
Vicki then began to think – if it worked on the general population, it could do great things for the incarcerated. It took Vicki a year to get the necessary go-ahead to start teaching conflict resolution skills to inmates in the prison system. In 2016 she was able to launch the program at the Washington Corrections Center (WCC) in Shelton. The results have been amazing. One inmate had not seen his daughter in 11 years due to a court order and because she had no desire to see him. He took Vicki’s class and because of the changes that were seen in him, the court lifted the order, and he was reunited with his daughter at his release.
“In the trainings I see adult students show up who are not always quite sure what they are getting into, being introduced to a new way of interacting,” says Vicki. “Initially they think they can’t do it, and yet a few days later they are doing it. Watching that transformation in adults is super cool. It’s profound.”
Above all, Vicki suggests it is about establishing a ripple effect. “Helping people resolve conflict creates a better community,” she explains. She also helps train others at the DRC.
For her, winning this award was overwhelming. “I thought about the many, many people who volunteer at the DRC, and their contributions are diverse and vast,” she says. “And I can’t help but think, ‘wait, didn’t you think about this person?’ Really I am just so appreciative that I get to put my energy into a community effort that feeds my soul, helps individuals and starts the ripple effect going out into the community.”
The Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County Needs You
The volunteers at the DRC are the ones who do the important work with the clients. You can train and become certified as a mediator, like what Vicki does, or you can be a “conciliator” who helps people who call the office, using many of the same skills the mediators do, including actively listening, reframing and helping clients understand their underlying needs and emotions in conflict. For those not sure they are ready to work with clients, the DRC also needs people on their community engagement team (community outreach) as well as administrative staff volunteers.
For more information on the DRC, visit the DRC website. Contact Emily Gray, volunteer manager, if you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities via email, firstname.lastname@example.org or phone, 360-956-1155.