The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Q5: "Love Letters from Kansas'

  • Catholic Charities of Kansas has received a grant to provide free relationship education workshops and services. Cynthia Colbert is an executive director of Catholic Charities.

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  • Catholic Charities of Kansas has received a grant to provide free relationship education workshops and services. Cynthia Colbert is an executive director of Catholic Charities.
    1. Can you tell us about Catholic Charities of Kansas’ new campaign called “Love Letters from Kansas,” which is designed to promote healthy marriage and relationship stability across the state?
    In October 2011, Catholic Charities of Kansas received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family assistance to provide free relationship education workshops and services throughout Kansas. This grant expands our relationship education workshops and services open to married couples, and now also to engaged couples, dating couples and single adults, through the Marriage for Keeps program. Four Catholic Charities affiliates – Catholic Charities, Inc., Diocese of Wichita, Catholic Social Service in the Diocese of Dodge City, Catholic Charities of Northern Kansas and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas – oversee this grant.
    We are excited to now be offering workshops to engaged, dating and single adults, Spanish speaking individuals and to folks living in rural areas of the state. Our goal is to recruit 2,855 couples and 1,320 single adults to participate in local workshops over a three-year period.
    2. Catholic Charities has provided marriage and relationship education through its Marriage for Keeps program to around 1,100 couples and 135 individuals. How does this program work and what will be different about the new campaign?
    Marriage for Keeps is focused on strengthening individuals, couples and families for life. We offer two types of free relationship education workshops through this program. Within My Reach is a 12-hour workshop for singles that provides participants with tools to guide their own relationships in a way that will lead to more enriching interactions with people in their lives, including their romantic partners. Within Our Reach is a 16-hour workshop for married couples. It teaches couples how to communicate effectively, work as a team to solve problems, manage conflicts and preserve and enhance commitment and friendship. Workshops may take place on a weekly basis – over a six-week or four-week period – or over two days.
    Interested participants will first make an appointment to meet with one of our family support specialists to determine their needs before signing up for a workshop. Family support specialists can also direct participants to local community resources including employment assistance, food banks, parenting classes and more.
    The Love Letters from Kansas public awareness campaign is one component of the recent federal grant. It is designed to increase awareness of local relationship education workshops and foster conversations about marriage and healthy romantic relationships. We know that every relationship has its own story. The question is, how can we help individual Kansans figure out what they want their story to be? You can learn more at KansasLoveLetters.com.
    Page 2 of 3 - 3. In 2006, Catholic Charities of Kansas was the only organization in the state selected to receive funding from the Office of Family Assistance to participate in a landmark national study. What did the study find and how did participants benefit?
    This study, the Supporting Healthy Marriage Project, examined the potential of strengthening marriages as a foundation for supporting stable, nurturing family environments and the well-being of low-income parents and children. Catholic Charities of Kansas was the only organization in Kansas selected to participate in this project in 2006.
    Over five years, 800 Kansas couples participated in the Supporting Healthy Marriage Project through our Marriage for Keeps program. Participants saw a consistent pattern of small positive effects on multiple aspects of their relationships including more positive communication, greater warmth and support and fewer negative interactions with their spouses.
    Initial results from the eight Supporting Healthy Marriage sites were released in March 2012.
    The effects of this project on longer-term outcomes, including divorce and separation, parenting, father engagement and child well-being, will be explored in future reports. Data from Catholic Charities of Kansas participants will be included in these reports.
    4. The relationship education workshops and services offered by Catholic Charities under the recent grant target individuals and couples of all ages and all economic backgrounds including those who are not married. What socio-economic group is most at risk and would be helped the most by the new program?
    There is not one specific socio-economic group that benefits from relationship education over another. However, much of our work is focused on reaching low- income individuals and couples in Kansas.
    This is supported by a 2010 Pew Research Center study, which reported that low-income and other disadvantaged groups in the U.S. are just as likely as those with college educations to want to get married, but they place a higher premium on financial stability as an important factor in deciding to wed.
    Research also shows that children in two-parent homes are, on average, more likely to have a higher sense of self-esteem, form healthy marriages when they marry, attend college and be physically healthier.
    Emerging research is just beginning to show the impact that relationship education and family strengthening programs can have on individuals, couples and families.
    5. The divorce rate in Kansas is almost 9 percent higher than the national rate. How do these programs provide people with the tools they need to interact more positively not only with their partners, but with society as a whole?
    Relationships not only impact couples, they also have a profound impact on families, friendships, communities and businesses. It is estimated that personal stress costs U.S. workplaces an estimated $200 billion per year.
    Relationship education is more than just helping couples communicate with one another.
    Page 3 of 3 - Communication, knowing when to listen and when to talk, how to deal with conflict and how to work together as a team - these are all beneficial life skills.
    The Within My Reach and Within Our Reach workshops are interactive, lively and informative for all participants. This is not traditional couples therapy or counseling.
    Participants in our relationship education workshops learn skills that will transform their marriages, relationships and communication with others throughout their lives.
    Our organization firmly believes that stronger individuals result in stronger relationships and stronger relationships equal a stronger Kansas.
    Bonus question:  What are the most important components of a good, long-lasting relationship or marriage?
    Every relationship has its own story. What works for one couple may not work for another.
    In our relationship education workshops we teach communication skills, help to uncover hidden issues and expectations in order to build mutual respect and assist participants in remembering shared experiences.
    Communication isn’t just what we say. It’s also in our gestures, facial expressions and in our touch. In terms of mutual respect, when you respect another person’s opinions, strengths and even their weaknesses, your actions toward them may change.
    Building upon shared experiences – the good times and even the tough times! – can really help a couple come together.
    — Rimsie McConiga