Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center

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Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center: Building Empathy and Respect

San Mateo San Mateo
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Building Empathy and Respect (BER) is a multi-faceted approach to working with our youth, schools and families. Using a coordinated effort to encourage empathy amongst these various constituencies, we promote understanding and respect, and help to build effective working relationships in SMC.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could teach youth and their families to empathize and transcend differences so that they could work. live and collaborate in thriving communities?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

San Mateo County, one of the most diverse counties in the United States, faces the challenge of a rapidly evolving population. Socio-economic, cultural and linguistic differences make it difficult for community members to be empathetic toward each other and work together to resolve their differences. This lack of empathy and respect inhibits collaborative problem solving, often resulting in a breakdown in trust, miscommunication and violence.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Building Empathy and Respect (BER) offers a comprehensive, integrated approach to improving the social climate in schools and communities. We partner with schools and work within neighborhoods to help members develop the skills necessary to build relationships based on empathy and respect. By building personal relationships and providing training to students, faculty and parents, BER helps youth and adults understand the impact of their words and actions on others. Young people are able realize their potential and recognize the potential in others, which results in improved learning outcomes, increased civic engagement, community leadership and reduced violence. While parents are better able to support their youth socially and academically.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

At Kennedy Middle School, the community was divided along ethnic and socio-economic lines. We helped address these divisions with a multi-touch year-long project themed "Don't hate, communicate." Students sat with someone different at a "mix-it-up" lunch day. 45 students participated in Peer Mediation Training and conducted several peer mediations. Staff participated in a day of training on how to effectively intervene when they hear disrespectful or hateful language. We discussed the school's overall discipline policy and trained teachers in nonverbal classroom management. 58 parents participated in training to promote improved home-school collaboration. An Alternative to Suspension Program was developed and implemented for 65 students.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2010-11 we implemented components of the Building Empathy and Respect program in several schools throughout San Mateo County, serving 1,597 youth, families and school staff. We developed a common vocabulary to address conflict and divisions, and noted measurable increases in empathetic behavior amongst students, between students and teachers and between parents and staff. Students reported a 16% decrease in the use of disrespectful language. In addition, school administrators reported a decrease in disciplinary infractions. The Alternative to Suspension Program, which required joint parent and student attendance, promoted communication around the misbehavior to change the event into a teaching moment. Faculty stated that students became much more aware of the effects of their own behavior, and the school revised existing school policies about respectful behavior on campus.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

PCRC serves all of San Mateo County and our goal is to implement the BER Program at schools throughout the county, impacting tens of thousands of students. Dedicated staff members provide training to students, parents and teachers who in turn would train others in Building Empathy and Respect Programs. In this way, we would help to transform the way community members view one another, and live and work together. The BER program would reach its full impact potential as other counties within California, and across the country, adopt the program in their schools and communities.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

PCRC receives funding from local Foundations as well as support from local School Districts to partially support the initiatives at ten schools. Additionally, PCRC receives a generous contribution from the Herbert Johnson Foundation to use as matching funds for schools interested in implementing multiple PCRC services. PCRC would continue to secure contracts from private and public entities and generate fees for service to sustain this work.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

PCRC is currently the only organization providing empathy training to multiple constituencies in the community, simultaneously, to ensure a more complete understanding and adoption of empathic behaviors. While many other organizations focus on specific issues arising in school, such as bullying, we place emphasis on building communication skills and respectful relationships throughout the community. We seek partnership with schools, community organizations and local governments to collaborate in our efforts to implement the Building Empathy and Respect program in all communities.

Founding Story

Our founding Executive Director, Pat Brown, envisioned the first conflict prevention program in San Mateo County aimed at helping young people develop skills of empathy and respect to handle conflict effectively. Prior to this innovative strategy, we dedicated all of our efforts to addressing conflict after it had appeared through intervention programs. Founding leaders asked one of the most significant questions: What if we addressed conflict before it happens? By crafting a host of preventative strategies that stress empathy and respect, and by working with youth, families and communities, we ultimately help to empower people, reduce violence, and build effective relationships.


PCRC is in its twenty-eighth year of service.PCRC has 16 board members and nearly 250 trained volunteers, who along with staff, support services and programs that serve over 14,000 residents throughout San Mateo County each year. The organization has an administrative staff of 3, and a program staff of 27 who have diverse backgrounds, experiences, skill and education levels. 22 staff are bilingual (Spanish, Tongan, Chinese, Taglog).
About You
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About Your Project
Organization Name
How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, San Mateo

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, San Mateo

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Individuals, Foundations, Businesses, Regional government.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):

San Mateo.

How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Empathy is a multidimensional value. As a society, we must work to build empathy in our schools, homes and communities to create the leaders of tomorrow. By working to develop empathy in youth, we achieve a multiplier effect, and a greater lifetime value as these youth go on to raise their own families and become leaders, spreading their reach. Young people that exhibit empathy are able to understand the needs of others and think beyond themselves. We help build empathy and respect in our schools, families and greater communities by providing young people with necessary skills and model the empathic behavior we would have them exhibit. Empathy creates its own virtuous cycle in which respect and understanding encourages more of the same.

Tell us about your partnerships

PCRC collaborates with over 60 community groups, dozens of governmental municipalities, over 80 educational institutions, numerous faith-based groups, and dozens of law enforcement agencies. Our belief is that these partnerships are strategically developed to enhance the effectiveness and relevance of the work as key stakeholders in the community. Our partnerships serve to inform us and collaborate with us to address diverse communities.


There are two major challenges that may affect the success of these efforts. The primary challenge involves getting authentic participation from our target community. Many fear their efforts will result in zero impact, an apprehension borne out of prior experiences or skepticism. Another challenge is maintaining the process because the trainings require emotional engagement. We address both challenges by developing a strong relationship with the community and being transparent when inviting them to engage in efforts, and being clear about intended outcomes.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

creating a safe space, building leadership skills, storytelling, immersion, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

6-12, 13-17, 18-35, 36-64, 65+.