About a year and a half ago, the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (WDRC) was working at maximum capacity. The nonprofit, located on downtown Bellingham’s Prospect Street for the past 10 years, was beginning to feel a little squeezed in their 4,000-square-foot space. “There is a lot of demand for our services,” says Executive Director Moonwater. “We were bursting at the seams.”
The WDRC works to teach people how to work out disputes and conflict in constructive and collaborative ways, which is more needed than ever in Whatcom’s rapidly changing communities. Among its many services, the WDRC offers conflict resolution classes in elementary, middle and high schools across the county, in-house workshops, and assistance with divorce, small claims, and other disputes.
The organization is run by a small staff and a team of volunteers who mediate disputes and teach healthy communication skills. Their goal is to build a community in which people approach conflict in creative and healthy ways.
As the WDRC Board of Directors and staff began to think about how they could expand their capacity, the news landed: their current location wasn’t planning to renew their lease. They were given a year and a half to find a new space. “That coincided with the lowest vacancy rates for commercial and residential property in Bellingham’s history,” says Moonwater.
Space downtown was – and still is – hard to find.
They put out feelers asking community partners and expert volunteers for help finding a new location and the financial support to make it happen.
“We found there was almost nothing available,” says Moonwater. “The properties that were available were almost triple what we had been paying in rent. We’re a medium-sized nonprofit with a pretty tight budget.”
After searching for months, Moonwater began to truly worry. But then word got out that a location just down the road at 206 Prospect Street might be coming available. The WDRC looked at the space and thought immediately that the 6,000+ square foot size and location were perfect.
“It’s right across from the courthouse,” says Moonwater, “so there’s this symbolic recognition that we’re an alternative to adversarial litigation. People can have another place to come, to handle things in a different way.”
Adam Lervik, a commercial banking officer at Peoples Bank, volunteers his time and expertise as a Board member of the WDRC. Lervik used his experience at the bank to help the WDRC evaluate property options.
“As a commercial lender, I’m aware of the competitiveness of the marketplace and the unique challenges small businesses and nonprofits often face,” said Lervik. “We needed a creative solution that would enable the WDRC to continue to support the community while staying within its limited budget. Fortunately, the puzzle pieces started to line up just when we needed them to.”
Members of the WDRC and Whatcom Museum, the owners of the building at 206 Prospect, held a meeting to discuss a possible solution. “We went from thinking there wasn’t any viable option to becoming building owners,” says Moonwater. “We put all of our negotiation skills to work.”
Support from a generous angel donor enabled the WDRC to make a down payment on the building. Then WDRC created a campaign called A Permanent Place for Peace to raise the funds needed to renovate the space and relocate the organization.
“A Permanent Place for Peace would not have been possible without the incredible outpouring of community support and contributions,” says Moonwater.
She feels that partnerships between the WDRC and private companies like Peoples Bank are critical to their success as a nonprofit in Bellingham. Volunteers bring their expertise from Peoples Bank and other businesses to build and strengthen the capacity of nonprofits.
“I’ve got to bring in experts to help us make good decisions as we go,” says Moonwater. By utilizing public and private partnerships, the nonprofit has thrived.
“One of the things I really appreciate from Peoples Bank and Adam [Lervik], is the contribution of time, support and wisdom,” Moonwater says.
“When you give back to the communities you live and work in,” Lervik says, “you get out what you put in. You come away with the ability to learn something about a process, about an organization making connections with other people in the business community. Everyone has an obligation to enrich the community.”
“It was a community effort to make this project come to fruition,” Moonwater says. “This allows us to turn right back around and give so much back to the community. It’s that reciprocity that makes it such a beautiful thing.”
Peoples Bank and the WDRC hope to inspire others to get involved supporting local nonprofits with their time, energy and expertise.
Upcoming WDRC Events:
- Come out to see the beautiful newly renovated office space on March 6. The official ribbon cutting ceremony will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at 206 Prospect Street in downtown Bellingham.
- Don’t miss the 17th annual Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament at the Bellingham Sportsplex on April 20, 2019.
The WDRC is looking for volunteers in a variety of areas and expertise. If you’re interested, call 360-676-0122. Donations are also still needed and are greatly appreciated.