Program seeks to strengthen families - Catholic Courier

Program seeks to strengthen families

Families are at the heart of a program Catholic Charities of Wayne County recently created and soon will launch with the help of a $1.66 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The new Thriving Families Program aims to help create strong, healthy families that in turn will enable children to grow into healthy and capable adults, according to Inga Rojas, creator of the new program.

"The family is the foundation. It’s like building a house. If your foundation is weak, the house is shaky," explained Rojas, director of clinical services for Catholic Charities of Wayne County.

If, however, a family’s foundation is strong, children will grow into adults who "will be able to face obstacles that come into their lives, whether they are work-related challenges, financial challenges or relationship challenges," Rojas added.

The grant was secured from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy Marriage and Education Grant Program, with help from Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer as well as U.S. Representatives John Katko and Louise Slaughter.

Catholic Charities of Wayne County already has a number of programs and services in place to help families and individuals, but the Thriving Families Program is unique because it blends a curriculum-based educational component with personalized case management, noted Deacon Peter Dohr, the agency’s executive director. Catholic Charities of Wayne County is collaborating on the initiative with the Victim Resource Center, Literacy Volunteers, Family Counseling Service of the Finger Lakes, the Wayne County Action Program and the Ad Council.

"This is not something we’ve had in this county before," Deacon Dohr said of the program.

"Typically we’re always reactive vs. preventative in nature," Rojas added. "A program like this, it allows families and young adults to develop and enhance relationships which are healthy vs. having (relationships) deteriorate and having to reach out for help."

At the program’s core is the Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program, a scientifically based and empirically tested curriculum developed by PREP Inc. based on more than 30 years of research, with much of that research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. This curriculum will provide the basis for the Thriving Families Program’s Healthy Marriage and Relationship courses, which will help people understand how communication works and learn how to communicate better in order to enhance their relationships and resolve conflicts, Rojas said. Course participants also will learn about conflict resolution, financial literacy and ways to identify what they are contributing to their relationships and what financial stressors may exist in those relationships, she said.

The program also includes a course specifically tailored for high-school students, and this course will help participants learn what attracts them to certain people, how to be healthy in relationships and what to do when relationships become unhealthy, Rojas said.

Everyone who enrolls in the courses will go through a screening process intended to help identify any needs participants may have and then link those participants to local resources and services that may benefit them, Deacon Dohr said. This connection will be very valuable, especially to people who live in rural parts of Wayne County and have limited access to transportation and resources, he remarked.

Catholic Charities of Wayne County is working with local schools, churches, libraries, doctor’s offices, Department of Social Services sites and even the county jail to spread the word about the program. These places will be able to refer people for the program, but interested families and individuals do not need referrals in order to participate. Although there are several target populations for the program — including 18- to 24-year olds, at-risk youths, the unemployed and underemployed, and migrant workers — there is no income requirement for participants to meet, and the program is open to everyone in Wayne County who is interested in learning to be a better person and a better partner, Deacon Dohr said.

"This isn’t just for struggling families. This is for all families. This is a healthy approach to having good relationships," Rojas said. "There isn’t one person who would not benefit from this. Taking a course on how to relate to others is not something that’s ever going to do you harm."


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