Around Our Town...Mercer House aids strength to families
02/01/2005 - Giving conscious thought to how many hugs a day you offer
your children may never overtake watching a college
football in terms of ways some parents spend a Saturday
afternoon, but the Strengthening Families program offered
by Mercer House seeks to change that.
The Strengthening Families program is unique in the way it
is put together says coordinator and Mercer House staffer
Doris Lowe. Each of the seven, two-hour sessions starts
with families sharing a meal before the parents and kids
split up for the first hour. Lowe takes the adults, while
Trey Ransom of the YMCA and the Nic's Kate Tiernan handle
the sessions for the kids. Ransom and Tiernan intertwine
games with lessons to help kids empathize with their
Meanwhile, parents learn love and limits of discipline, as
well as rating what they do well as a caretaker. One quiz
asks parents to rate whether they give their kids enough
hugs, as well as how they discipline their children, or
spend one-on-one time with the kids.
In the second hour the families come back for family
activities, such as making a family crest, or goal sharing
exercises in which the children and parents share their own
hopes, past and present. Lowe said it is not a rarity for
the parents to have little idea what their kid wants to do
for work when they grow up, while kids fail to realize the
parent had goals of their own when they were younger.
"To see a family enjoy talking to each other is very
rewarding," Lowe said. "To see a family identify strengths
of each other is rewarding because most of us don't talk
about things that are strengths of one another."
Among the topics touched upon in the sessions are using
love and limits, empathy, parents to youth and youth to
parents, following rules and responsibilities related to
reaching goals, expressing appreciation for family members,
open and clear communication and protecting against
substance abuse. Each family is interviewed before they
join the class, so Lowe can try to tailor the program to
the needs of those registering.
"I had a two-parent family on the verge of at least
separating, if not getting a divorce," Lowe said. "The man
happened upon an brochure somewhere and they took the
class. A lot of their problem was discipline. One of them
was pretty lax and the other had to be a little tougher and
that was causing some trouble." "Once they got on the same page, that really seemed to
take care of a lot of their troubles."
The seven-week course costs nothing to the participants,
but there is a $20 deposit that is asked for, generally a
post-dated check that is not cashed. The program is funded
by the State of Wyoming, 21st Century State Incentive
Part of the reason for the state to fund such a program
comes out of research the state of Iowa did in 2002, in
which researchers conservatively estimated that prevention
of a single case of adult alcohol abuse produced an average
of $119,633 in avoided costs to society.
The Strengthening Families curriculum is a "best practice"
model. Lowe says that basically means more than one
research project has shown it makes a significant
"It is a product that a lot of people have tried to prove
is wrong because, it just shouldn't be that easy," said
Lowe. "In this model, the counselor facilitates the actions
of the family instead of it just being a relationship
between the counselor and the individuals of the family."