By Ken Steadman / Sun contributor
The VORP/Community Center, Inc. held a 20-year celebration with mediators and board members Oct. 20. The event was held at the Depot. A light lunch was donated with about 50 people attending. Much reminiscing took place and a lot of thanks to founder Leonard Stark from Pleasant Hill and Executive Director Rita Young.
The letters VORP stand for Victim Offender Reconciliation Program. Stark single handedly organized the Cumberland County VORP from his experience in developing one in Lima, Ohio during his ministry. Cumberland County became the second VORP in Tennessee in the fall of 1989. There are currently 13 operating in the state.
VORP provides free, neutral, confidential and voluntary access to everyone to resolve disputes through mediation. They work closely with the Cumberland County Court system for nearly all of their referrals. The judge determines when a case is referred and both parties in the dispute must voluntarily agree to mediate.
There is quite a contrast to the number of cases VORP has received over the years. They started with eight cases in the fall of 1989 and 19 years later received 1130 during the year 2008. Over 800 have been referred so far in 2009. In total, VORP has mediated 7,500 cases in Cumberland County during their 20 years of service.
Please realize that there is a minimum of two people involved in each referral, a victim and an offender. That means that at least 15,000 Cumberland County lives have been touched with mediation. There are two strong benefits from this process: 1.) the mediated results are 96 percent satisfactory to both parties; 2.) over $400,000 has been arranged for victims for restitution.
The court system is a winner because if gives more time to resolve more serious cases. The county is a winner because the mediation process is free. Tax payers must realize that prosecution and defense offered by a public defender cost a great deal of your tax dollars. District Attorney Randy York is quoted as saying, "You will never know how much the bar and my office appreciate the volunteers at VORP. Through your efforts, you have resolved many conflicts, have reduced overcrowding dockets and helped our justice system.”
Judge Larry M. Warner offered these words in honor of the 20-year celebration: “I wish to extend my gratitude for your service and dedication to Cumberland County. I truly appreciate the efforts that each of you gives so freely of yourself. You are making a tremendous difference in my court and this community.”
VORP operates with two full-time and one part time paid staff and over 30 volunteer mediators and board members. Currently there are 13 VORP offices in the state of Tennessee in cities like Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga. The Cumberland County VORP office handles 74 percent of all the court referrals in the state thanks to the belief in the mediation system by Judge Larry M. Warner.
VORP/Mediation Center receives funding from several sources: United Fund, Tennessee Supreme Court, Tennessee Bar Foundation, city of Crossville, local churches, various grants and caring individuals. Cumberland County provides office space with the building at 584 Highway 70 East.
Referred cases include neighbor disputes, vandalism, shoplifting, bad checks, animal related and assault cases. Please call Executive Director Rita Young at 484-0972 to learn more about the VORP organization. New mediators are always needed and free training is provided.