PEMF and VORP Grants Awarded to 19 Organizations Across the State

June 26, 2020

The Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts recently awarded over $337,000 in grants from the Parent Education and Mediation Fund (PEMF) and the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP) of Tennessee to not-for-profit community organizations across the state.

In all, 19 organizations received the grants, which are distributed annually.

“During these times of conflict in our communities and across our nation, our commitment to reconciliation and mediation are more important than ever, and we are pleased to support the mission of these organizations to resolve conflict whether inside or outside the courtroom,” Administrative Office of the Courts Director Deborah Taylor Tate said.

The grants help fulfill the Tennessee Judiciary’s commitment to access to justice.

“These grants are another exciting opportunity for local communities to receive critical funding to provide services and resources that address and eliminate barriers to access to justice for all,” Tennessee Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission Chair Bill Coley said. “Organizations across the state are working harder than ever to serve families and children through times of crisis.”

PEMF recipients provide court-related assistance to low-income parties, including mediation and interpreter services and courses to improve dispute resolution skills among families.

Vachenzia M. McKinney is the executive director of Le Dujour HERO Village of the Mid-South, Inc., one of this year’s PEMF recipients. McKinney described why the grant from the AOC is so important to her organization.

“Le Dujour HERO Village, Inc. is a 501 (c)3 on a mission to create stronger parents and stronger families by providing interventions which impact youth and community behavior,” she said. “Our aim is to better equip those in a struggle to live their most productive lives. With the help of the PEMF grant, we are able to provide parent education centered on resolving family conflict and promoting the parent-child relationship for parties going through a divorce or other custody issue in Shelby County. The support we receive from AOC helps us continue to provide outcomes demonstrating an increase in feelings of safety, self-worth, and self-awareness even during this traumatic COVID 19 pandemic. Supporting families is vital to the stability of our community and we are thankful to receive grant funding that helps families.”

Individual courts are eligible to receive PEMF funds. This year, the Madison County Juvenile Court is receiving a PEMF grant. Madison County Juvenile Court Judge Christy R. Little spoke about the crucial impact of PEMF funding on her court.

“The vision of a child walking in the middle of her father and mother with smiles all around is the vision I relate to success,” she said. “The PEMF grant funds we receive have given Madison County Juvenile Court the ability to work with parents in a professional manner that allows both parties to express their needs and concerns. Without the funding we receive, I know my vision of a successful parenting plan with children as the focus would not exist.”

VORP recipients operate victim-offender mediation centers or programs providing neutral mediators for victim-offender mediation in felony, misdemeanor, and juvenile delinquent cases free of charge to the participants. These mediation centers provide essential services to families in need.

“Community Mediation Centers play a vital role in bringing together friends, families, and communities to resolve conflict and restore relationships,” Tennessee Supreme Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission Chair Larry Bridgesmith said. “Funds provided by the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program help ensure all have access to a restorative process regardless of income and ability to pay.”

The VORP/Community Mediation Center in Crossville, which serves the 13th Judicial District, was the second established in the state. It received its first eight cases from juvenile court in 1988. Over the years, this center has expanded its coverage to include not only Cumberland County, but Clay, Overton, Putnam, and White Counties as well.

The executive director of the center, Rita Young, said that VORP grant funding has been indispensable to the center’s efforts to help rural families.

“The need for services for rural Tennessee is enormous,” she said. “Rural Tennessee has access to fewer services or requires people in need to travel which they may or may not be able to afford. Our success is determined by our love of community and the empowerment of its citizens. Our future depends only on funding because the need is here.”

The Mediation Center in Columbia is another organization receiving VORP grants this year. Executive Director Tiana Vanik explained the work that the Center is able to do with entities like Maury County Public Schools and Maury County Juvenile Court thanks to VORP grant funding.

“Mediation is not about the absence of conflict but the ability to cope with and navigate through it,” Vanik said. “The Mediation Center strives not only to navigate through conflict but to give individuals (especially juveniles), the tools necessary to better cope with and prevent future conflict. The Mediation Center provides direct access to the public by breaking down the physical and economic barriers faced by many in Maury and the surrounding communities by having the ability through the VORP grant to offer free mediations to those who qualify.”

Both PEMF and VORP funding were established by state law. PEMF is funded through a portion of marriage license fees. The grant money is then awarded as part of Public Chapter 889, known as the Tennessee Parenting Plan Law, which was enacted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2000. In developing this legislation, the general assembly “recognize[d] the fundamental importance of the parent-child relationship to the welfare of the child, and the relationship between the child and each parent should be fostered unless inconsistent with the child's best interests.” (T.C.A. §36-6-401.) The legislation also provided for funding to be distributed by the Administrative Office of the Courts for the purpose of funding the parenting plan requirements in Tennessee.

The Victim Offender Reconciliation Program of Tennessee (VORP) was sanctioned by the legislature in 1993. A VORP grant recipient must be organized as a not-for-profit corporation that helps resolve felony, misdemeanor, and/or juvenile delinquent disputes. The recipient’s services are a more informal and less adversarial alternative to court in which persons may voluntarily participate to resolve altercations.(T.C.A. §16-20-101.)

A Tennessee map of VORP and PEMF recipients can be found here.  More details about each service offered is located here (PEMF) and here (VORP)

The AOC hosted a webinar in April for PEMF and VORP applicants and received applications in May. Both the PEMF and VORP grants will run from July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.  Organizations interested in building support for a program or applying next year may visit https://www.tncourts.gov/programs/rfpsgrants or email grants@tncourts.gov.