Lawyer Frank Hanna first studied mediation in one of the world capitals of dispute — war-torn Northern Ireland.
Death threats, exploding bombs and assassinations carried out against trusted co lleagues were commonplace.
Now the Fountain Hills resident is using his experience to help shape the East Valley’s future through a research group that aims to teach students better mediation skills.
Hanna, who once served as a consultant to the Vatican, said he wants to see conflict resolution "not just between factions — but in families, in schools and especially in communities."
His colleagues at the nonprofit Alternative Dispute Resolution Association say Hanna has breathed new life into the 18-year-old group. Members of the 300-strong statewide association named him president last year.
His accomplishments include revamping the group’s Web site and setting up the association’s official headquarters in Scottsdale last September. Newly energized, the group is about to take on its biggest challenge to date — overhauling school peer mediation programs.
"We did a conference of peer mediators late last year, and we found that there are a lot of inconsistencies on how peer mediation is carried out, if at all, in schools," said Sherri Lichte, an educator, counselor and association member.
Lichte launched Arizona’s pilot peer mediation program in the late 1980s at Barry Goldwater High School in north Phoenix.
"We want to help standardize school programs and bring it to schools who don’t offer it because we have found that peer mediation is 97 percent effective in resolving conflict," she said.
Despite statistical evidence, schools often come up short when funding peer mediation programs. The association hopes to alleviate the burden by tapping into contributions from corporations and community members.
It’s a good investment, Lichte said.
"Once we teach the skills to students, it’s pretty selfsustaining," she said. "And these are skills kids take with them through life."
The effort coincides well with Hanna’s longtime desire to effect change at the community level, a goal that carried him from his homeland to the United States. After studying at Harvard Law School, Hanna came to the Valley in 2001 when Gilbert hired him to head up the growing town’s mediation program.
"Certainly, growing up and working in Belfast had a profound effect on how I think about conflict," Hanna said. "At the very least, I know what conflict is."
More about it
To join the Alternative Dispute Resolution Association or to learn more about how to contribute toward standardized Peer Mediation, visit www.azdra.org.