$2.1 million to save marriages

“As a marriage goes, so goes a family. As a family goes, so goes a community,” Gary Oliver, the executive director for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University, is known for saying.

This statement embodies the mission of the Center’s work with the grant money they received from the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Family Assistance.

The grant, which totals $2.1 million over a three-year period, is to encourage, promote and educate healthy marriage skills among couples.

This is the second grant the Center received from the Department. The first grant, recieved in 2006, was for five years, which allowed the Center to reach over 7,000 people in Northwest Arkansas.

This year alone, the Center reached close to 1,400 people with relationship skills through the new grant money.

“Here’s the wonderful thing about our work: it doesn’t cost anybody a dime because of this grant. Basically, if you want to learn about healthy relationships, we want you there,” said Stew Grant, who works with churches and marriage ministries through the Center.

Grant is one of six full-time employees at the Center, along with their two graduate fellows and nine facilitators.

“The DHHS provides the funds so we can put workbooks in people’s hands, provide facilitators, and feed them lunch if need be,” said Grant. The Center can also meet other material needs, such as providing Walmart gift cards to the attendees.

This money spreads its impact across many groups in Northwest Arkansas. In the last few years, this has included programs for:

Low income families through Life Source and the Samaritan Center

Over 180 male inmates at the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction

Pregnancy assistance centers

Girls launching out of foster care

High school students at Siloam Springs and Mountainburg schools

Premarital workshops and small groups

Marriage enrichment seminars and mentoring programs

The center is also seeking classes with the Creek and Cherokee tribes, sessions with high school students in Springdale and Rogers, and other opportunities to reach out and change the community.

“Marriage truly is the brick and mortar of society,” explained Grant. “According to the last census, only 48 percent of all households are married households. This means that marriage is in decline, and it is a minority status at this point. We want to reverse that. We believe marriage can be one of the best of human experiences.”

Success stories

“When couples realize they have skills to work through issues, they have hope,” said Grant. “We get emails like this constantly. It’s very gratifying work.”

One of these emails told the story of a couple on the brink of divorce. “Both had seen lawyers, and both were very frustrated,” according to Grant. “After attending one of our events, they set the divorce aside and decided that they can work at this.”

Another woman attended a marriage seminar, and immediately took her notes to her son and daughter-in-law. She taught them the principles she learned, and they ended up not pursuing a divorce.

Grant describes this as a “spillover effect” of their work.

“A good relationship can affect many other relationships, just like a bad one can,” he said. “We know that the more people we reach the better it is for the area.”