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Editorial

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

parents.

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

Grant.

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

difference.

"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."

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