New program seeks to strengthen marriage and families

by Tammy Dodderidge

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “Till death do us part” may still be part of traditional marriage vows. But the numbers don’t lie.

Statistics from the state of Kansas show that in 2004, there were 8,455 divorces and 304 annulments. This number (which is the most up-to-date information available) represents a 1.3 percent increase in the divorce rate from the previous year. Statistics also show that 40 percent of couples who marry in Kansas end up divorced within four years.

Irene Cauvillo, director of Children and Family Services for Catholic Charities in Kansas City, Kan., thinks these numbers are staggering.

And she’s determined to do something about them.

This past July, Catholic Charities launched a new program aimed at strengthening marriages and, in turn, families.

Marriage for Keeps is a three-part marriage skill-building program. It includes 13 weeks of marriage education classes, family support resources, and social activities for couples and families. Couples taking the classes work to set goals, improve communication, and learn tools to better manage stress, conflict and child rearing. Classes are held at the Catholic Charities offices at 2220 Central Avenue. There is no cost to participate in the program.

“Research suggests that strong marriages contribute to healthy, stable lives for people, and they also contribute to raising healthy, happy children,” said Cauvillo. That research has led the federal government to fund some initiatives designed to strengthen marriages.

Marriage for Keeps, for example, is part of a federal research project called Supporting Healthy Marriage, which is being funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. The national study will measure the impact these services have on marital quality, marital stability and child well-being, with the goal being to substantially improve the relationships of Kansas couples and the lives of Kansas children.

Kansas is one of eight sites across the country selected to participate in the study. Catholic Charities in Wichita applied for the program originally, then asked its counterpart in Kansas City to be a part of it. Catholic Charities agencies in Dodge City, Garden City, Manhattan and Salina are also participating as demonstration locations, but are not part of the national study.

Ed Glenn, regional coordinator of Marriage for Keeps in Kansas City, Kan., said he welcomed the program with open arms.

“It’s not too much of a stretch to see why Catholic Charities would be interested in promoting a pro-marriage program,” he said. “Marriage is something that should be cherished and strengthened.”

The third cohort of Marriage for Keeps couples began the program on Sept. 22. Though the program is relatively new, Glenn said the impact it is having on couples is already highly visible.

“Comments from our couples have ranged from ‘It’s fun’ or ‘It’s interesting’ to ‘You’ve saved our marriage,’” said Glenn. “So far, everyone has been incredibly positive about this.”

Though the classes themselves run for 13 weeks, couples are offered an opportunity to take part in “mini” classes that focus on everything from parenting skills to budgeting to time management.

Even after the research project is concluded, Glenn said, Catholic Charities plans to continue to offer the program.

“We’re working on the idea of how we will continue to fund this and make it a permanent part of Catholic Charities’ services,” he added.

Couples interested in taking part in Marriage for Keeps should contact Catholic Charities at (913) 621-5255, ext. 184.

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