Boost Marriage, Boost Community - Missouri is rowing - 9/04

Smart Marriages ® cmfce
Wed Sep 29 18:29:51 EDT 2004

subject: Boost Marriage, Boost Community - Missouri is rowing - 9/04

I predict that the Marriage Initiative in Springfield Missouri is going to
get great results - because they've clearly got the MEDIA on board.
Journalists are the front line, the real culture changers - and a crucial,
key ingredient. Don't do all this work - and fail to invite journalists.
Figure a way to get them all there - broadcast and print. This appeal to
strengthening the village is a good one. And, note that Springfield has one
of the Web-Based Community Resource Centers listed in the National Registry
on the Smart Marriages web site. If you've got something going on in
Missouri, get listed with them. It's free.
- diane


News Leader (Springfield)
September 29, 2004

Premarital talk should come before caterers.

Everyone should be able to agree that strong marriages benefit society. We
should also be able to agree that too many marriages end in divorce.

Jennifer Baker, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the
Forest Institute, is leading efforts to support marriage in the Ozarks.

The federal government recently issued a $1.2 million grant to the Forest
Institute to help strengthen marriages in the Ozarks. This is an effort we
should all pay attention to. It could easily affect us or someone we know.

Greene County has a higher rate of divorced people living here than the
state or national average, according to 2000 census figures. Just under 10
percent of all U.S. citizens over 15 years old categorized themselves as
divorced. That number was 10.8 percent for Missouri residents. It was even
higher, 11.9 percent, for Greene County residents.

These numbers make it clear we've got a problem. Baker is doing her part to
stem the tide. She's teaching marriage enrichment classes in several arenas
x to church members, social workers, even to prisoners in jail. She's
organized Ozarks Marriage Matters, a nonprofit organization working to
prevent divorce.

She's partnered with local churches and religious organizations and

But while everyone might not choose to officially partner with Baker's
organization or support all of its goals, marriage is an institution that
should be promoted.

There are valid reasons for relationships to end, but divorces are always
sad. Many studies have shown that married couples are happier and healthier
than single people and live longer, and that children of married parents
fare better in school than children whose parents are divorced or never

Everyone should be able to agree that our culture places too much emphasis
on weddings and not enough on long-lasting marriages and relationship
skills. Premarital counseling should be seen as having more importance than
meeting with caterers and florists.

A conference took place last week at Second Baptist Church that explored how
strong marriages can solve a host of societal problems.

Almost 30 local church leaders have signed a Community Marriage Policy. That
states partially that they'll encourage premarital counseling for the
couples who get married in their churches. But without endorsing every
aspect of the policy, everyone can play a role.

Baker said that all married couples should realize they are role models.
Singles and other couples will look to them for advice and encouragement or
just for a vision of what a successful relationship looks like.

Healthy, strong marriages, of course, aren't easy and involve lots of hard
work. But they're worth working for, and that's something the community
should support.


Programs hope to reduce the rate of divorce in area.
By Linda Leicht
News-Leader (Springfield, MO)
Sept 28, 2004

(Jennifer Baker presented in the closing Marriage Rally plenary at the
Dallas 2004 Smart Marriages Conference and all the experts featured here
were presenters at the conference.)

When Jennifer Baker talks about marriage, she is talking about adults,
children, churches, schools, jails x and communities.

Healthy marriages, she says, are the "keys to making things happen in our

Baker, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Forest
Institute, is at the forefront of efforts to save marriages in Greene County
through her work at Forest and a nonprofit organization she founded, Ozarks
Marriage Matters. The institute recently received a $1.2 million federal
grant for a program designed to strengthen marriages in the region.

She works with individual families, leads marriage-enrichment classes in the
Greene County Jail, teaches social workers how to help families by promoting
marriage, teaches a class with her husband, Paul, at her church, and spreads
the gospel of strong marriage to anyone who will listen.

Baker points to Census Bureau stats showing Greene County with a higher
number of divorced people. According to the 2000 Census, 9.7 percent of
those over the age of 15 in the United States listed themselves as divorced.
In Missouri, that statistic jumped to 10.8 percent. But Greene County took
the lead with 11.9 percent of that population divorced.

All this in an area that boasts more than 350 houses of worship and more
than 160,000 people worshipping in them.

"Isn't it interesting that in a county with so many churches that is so
conservative, grounded in the faith community, we have such a high rate of
divorce?" Baker said.

She recently called on faith leaders to get involved in building a healthy
community through healthy marriages. Last week, nearly 30 of them signed a
Community Marriage Policy, agreeing to place marriage at the top of their

Couples learn

Josh and Kari Wanner are excited about the program the Bakers lead at
Redeemer Lutheran Church. The Wanners have been married nearly six years and
have two children. They have a strong relationship, but had little real
premarital preparation.

"Our premarital counseling was such a wash," said Kari Wanner. "Now I'm
interested to see what we can learn."

After just two sessions, the Wanners have already seen some areas where they
can improve. They were introduced to the "four danger signs" of poor

"I saw myself in there," said Kari Wanner.

"Marriage is a continuous conversation," her husband added.

The Wanners attend class with Drew and Vickie Sims, who have been married 30
years and have three children.

"There's always room for improvement," said Vickie Sims.

The Simses provide a healthy role model for couples who don't have as many
years in a marriage.

"We can pull from life experiences," said Drew Sims, who insisted it gets
much easier the longer a marriage lasts.

John Justice, pastor at Grant Avenue Baptist Church, hopes to add mentor
couples to the premarital counseling his church does for couples.

Justice signed the Community Marriage Policy because he believes it is his
role as a spiritual leader to support marriage.

He also has personal reasons.

"Divorce has been a problem in my own family," said Justice, who has been
married for 33 years. "I know very much the pain that divorce causes."

His congregation of about 160 worshippers has also experienced divorce, and
Justice said he wants to reverse that trend.

The Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese, which also signed onto the
Community Marriage Policy, has had a formal program for premarital
counseling, said Troy Casteel, director of family ministries for the

"Marriage is an institution that is in the interest of the common good,"
said Casteel. "The healthier marriages are, the healthier society is."

First Things First

Statistics that back up Casteel's assertion that healthy marriages make
healthy societies has led communities around the country to initiate their
own marriage support programs.

One of the first was in Hamilton County, Tenn., which decided in 1997 to
address its sky-high divorce rate through an organization called First
Things First. The core of the program is a pre-marriage class x faith-based
or secular x along with programs for people who are already married,
especially those in second marriages.

Julie Baumgardner, executive director of FTF, said that since that time,
divorce filings are down 28 percent and the divorce rate dropped by 16
percent. In 2002, the state passed a law charging an additional $60 for a
marriage license x unless you take a qualified premarital course.

"People spend more time planning for their wedding than they do for their
marriage," Baumgardner said.

Mike McManus, founder of the Maryland-based Marriage Savers in 1996, said
communities such as Hamilton County in Tennessee and Greene County in
Missouri are among more than 180 communities that have instituted a
community marriage policy.

The impact of those policies is not easy to determine, but McManus estimates
that 50,000 marriages have been "saved" in those communities.

In Greene County last year, slightly more than 2,000 marriage licenses were
issued and 1,500 divorces were filed, a statistic that has been fairly
steady over the past four years, Baker found.

She wants to save some of those relationships.

Using part of the federal grant, the Forest Institute has been working with
social work students at Southwest Missouri State University to develop a
curriculum to train child-care professionals and caseworkers in the areas of
healthy marriage and family formation.

Last week, the first Building the Foundation training conference was held at
Second Baptist Church. There, students and professionals, along with church
members and other community members, learned how healthy marriages can
address a range of social issues, from economic woes to domestic violence
and substance abuse.

The event brought in a judge from Michigan who insisted his caseload is
primarily the result of marriages gone bad. Drunken-driving charges,
accidents and domestic violence are often related to marital problems, said
James Sheridan, a district court judge since 1979.

Using his personal experiences and statistics from various studies he has
"connected the dots" to find that marriage is the problem that must be

Baker hopes that Greene County will connect the dots as it looks at ways to
improve its quality of life.

Baker can't do it alone, she said.

"It must be a concerted effort."

On the Web

x Ozarks Marriage Matters,

x First Things First,

x Marriage Savers,

x James Sheridan,


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