Grant will help keep love alive

Published March 24, 2007

Two local agencies will use a $5.5-million federal grant to build healthy marriages and relationships in Pinellas and Manatee counties.

Family Resources Inc. and the Marriage and Family Center want to offer relationship classes to diverse groups like childbirth educators, parent-teacher associations, high schools, colleges, hospitals, senior citizen groups, day care centers and health clubs.

The classes are targeted to anyone 15 and older: married and unmarried couples, singles, engaged couples and unmarried expectant mothers and fathers.

"Our whole focus is on prevention, which is totally new. People are not used to getting prevention for relationships, because the thought is that you're supposed to know how to do this," said Stephanie M. Brown, community relations liaison for Family Resources.

In applying for the five-year grant, the organizations - which have established a relationship to work on the project - cited statistics showing Manatee and Pinellas counties have more domestic violence, crime and teen pregnancy than other parts of Florida.

Carol Jones, project manager with the Marriage and Family Center, based in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, talked about the plan to strengthen local families during a Tuesday morning meeting of the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association.

"We really feel that the churches are the perfect venue for this kind of program. Pastors are often very welcoming," Jones said.

The agencies want to join forces with faith communities because religious groups already try to help couples build strong relationships, said Terry Smith, program director at Family Resources, a private, nonprofit organization with offices in Pinellas Park and Bradenton.

"My expectation is that we wouldn't be successful unless we work closely with the faith community," Smith said.

The classes will be based mainly on an international curriculum known as PREP, or more formally the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program. The program has no similarities to traditional marriage counseling, Smith said.

Jones said the workshops "are designed to be fun and nonthreatening and interactive."

"We don't want to create a stigma," she said.

Money to fund the project will come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' agency for Administration for Children and Families.

The federal agency's Web site gives several reasons for the government's interest in promoting stable marriages. Among them, it states that children who grow up in healthy, married, two-parent families do better than those who do not. It also says that many social problems that affect children, families and communities could be reduced if children grew up in healthy, married families.

The workshops, which will be scheduled as requested, are being offered for a small fee. The first session will be held at the end of March for the staffs of the two agencies.

Meanwhile, employees hired to work on the five-year program are scouting for permanent locations, such as colleges, neighborhood centers and hospitals, where classes can be offered regularly.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 727 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

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To learn more or find out how to attend a workshop to strengthen your relationship, contact Cindy Hasemann, Family Resources, 5180 62nd Ave. N, Pinellas Park at (727) 528-5776 or chasemann@ familyresources.org.