San Antonio.- The staff of the Bexar County Resolution Center receives the San Antonio Bar Foundation’s Peacemaker Award for Corporate Community Service. Left to right: Rosie Gonzalez, Sandra Hackard, Nancy Oseasohn, Marlene Labenz-Hough, Resolution Center Director, Debbie Ontiveros, Anita Sitz-Castillo, and Al Cortez. (Photo, Suzie Walker)
The Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center is the recipient of the 2013 San Antonio Bar Foundation’s (SABF) Peacemaker Award for Corporate Community Service. The Peacemaker Award recognizes the efforts of an organization or entity in the San Antonio community which is committed to promoting non-violent means of dispute resolution and has demonstrated outstanding service to the community. The award was presented to the BCDRC staff at the SABF’s annual Peacemaker Awards Ceremony on January 25, 2013.
Well before mediation was in common usage and accepted as an alternative to the court system, the Bexar County Dispute Resolution (BCDRC) was mediating community and neighborhood disputes and working to educate the San Antonio community about the benefits of mediation. Established by the Bexar County Commissioners Court, with the support and guidance of the San Antonio Bar Association, the BCDRC opened its doors in 1984 and embarked on an effort to gain acceptance for mediation as an alternative means of dispute resolution. Twenty-nine years later, the BCDRC is highly regarded and recognized as a model dispute resolution center both statewide and nationally. Each year, the BCDRC provides services to over 7,000 clients, sets nearly 2,500 cases for mediation, and maintains a 78% resolution rate of cases mediated.
Over the years, the BCDRC has implemented a wide variety of effective mediation programs. Through its community program, the center continues to mediate consumer problems, workplace issues, property damage, neighbor complaints, landlord & tenant matters, monetary disputes and other small claims cases. The family mediation program has assisted thousands of families embroiled in disputes involving child visitation and children’s medical expenses.
The BCDRC’s court-ordered litigation mediation program helped introduce mediation to the legal community as an alternative to court. In fact, Judge Charles Gonzalez, the first ADR Judge in Bexar County, ordered many of the first civil district court cases to mediation at the BCDRC! As a means of resolving CPS cases in a more efficient and timely manner, the Bexar County Children’s Court orders CPS cases to the BCDRC. Since the program’s inception in 1999, over 1,500 child abuse and neglect cases have been mediated, resulting in the placement of thousands of children in permanent and safe homes. The BCDRC has the largest CPS mediation program in the state of Texas. By settling court-ordered civil litigation cases and Children’s Court cases through mediation, the BCDRC saves Bexar County courts approximately $2,500,000 in court expenses each year.
The BCDRC also offers mediation programs at the Bexar County Justice of the Peace Courts and at the request of SAPD SAFFE officers. Additionally, the BCDRC administers the Amigos in Mediation (AIM) Peer Mediation Program which has established peer mediation programs in 138 Bexar County schools, more than any other program in the state of Texas. Each year, AIM trains over 2,000 students as peer mediators; these students mediate more than 1,500 disputes, maintaining a 98% agreement rate.
At the head of this well organized and remarkably efficient County department is Director Marlene Labenz-Hough, who has led the BCDRC for 22 of its 29 years. Marlene leads a team of 10 county employees and 150 volunteers who serve as mediators, intake assistants, trainers, and Speakers Bureau presenters. The BCDRC could not function without its cadre of volunteers who provide nearly 6,000 hours of pro bono services, valued at over half a million dollars annually!
As Andy Kerr, Chair of the SABA, noted, “There is no other organization in San Antonio that does more than the BCDRC to resolve conflicts effectively and efficiently. We are very fortunate to have such a well-run organization committed to serving our community in this manner.”
To learn more about the Bexar County Dispute Resolution Center, please visit www.bexar.org/drc