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New Mexico State University

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NMSU hosts New Mexico Healthy Marriage Coalition's legislative report

ALBUQUERQUE - Strengthening the societal infrastructure by teaching couples how to be better partners in their relationship, parents and families is a joint goal of five agencies forming the New Mexico Healthy Marriage Coalition.


State legislators and congressional delegate representatives recently learned about the coalition and the programs being conducted by its members during a meeting held at the New Mexico State University-Albuquerque Center.

"I'm deeply inspired that these programs are focusing on helping to develop healthy families, because the healthy family is the bedrock of our society," said state Sen. Mark Boitano, R-Bernalillo County, after the coalition members presented their program summaries. "Unfortunately in the last generation or two the family has been dissolving and fewer families have been forming. The services this coalition provides to our community can help remedy that problem. It's not only good for the families involved, it's good for our society and it's good for our state."

In September 2006 the United States Department of Health and Human Resources awarded five-year grants to five New Mexico organizations, which total $3.3 million annually, to provide Healthy Marriage programs as part of its family improvement program.

The New Mexico recipients - NMSU's Family Wellness, Samaritan Counseling Center's Healthy Marriage, the New Mexico Marriages First Project, Youth Development Incorporation's Caring Couples Healthy Children and First Nations Community Health Source's All My Relations - formed a coalition with the purpose of working together to maximize the effectiveness of the grants and their impact across the state.

"The coalition is unique. We saw an opportunity to pull people together who have a common interest. All are funded under the same pot of money so it is nice to have that support from each other. New Mexico is a state that needs these services so it is nice to work together," said Marcel Montanez, associate professor in Family and Consumer Sciences and investigator for the NMSU Strengthening Families Initiative's Family Wellness program.

"All of the legislators who were here were struck by the fact that many times when you have a variety of agencies or programs that get grants, they go off in different directions and sometimes step on each other's toes, or leave areas uncovered, basically not collaborate very well. I think that is why this coalition is very appealing," said state Sen. Gerald P. Ortiz y Pino, D-Bernalillo County.

Joining Ortiz y Pino and Boitano as guests at the coalition's first legislative report were state Reps. Janice E. Arnold-Jones, R-Bernalillo County, and Jimmie C. Hall, R-Bernalillo County; and representatives for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, and U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-New Mexico.

"We have different curriculums and different target audiences, but we are all working on the same project to strengthen couples and families," said Esther Devall, NMSU professor in Family and Consumer Sciences and principal investigator for NMSU's Strengthening Families Initiative's Family Wellness program, which is delivering classes in the Albuquerque metroplex and Dona Ana County.

NMSU's program teaches practical relationship skills based on proven principles that strengthen, uphold and empower families. The program's 12, two-and-a-half hour, weekly class sessions focus on effective parenting, healthy family functioning and positive couple relationships. Each session is organized to demonstrate and then to practice the skills using role play, coaching and activities. For more information about the Family Wellness program, call (505) 332-3765 in Albuquerque or (575) 646-4360 in Las Cruces.

Healthy Marriages is available to couples at various developmental stages of couple life - dating, pre-marital, newlywed, married and couples later in life, with particular focus given to economically disadvantaged and culturally diverse couples, according to Sarah Lee of Samaritan Counseling Center. The program includes skill building presentations and workshops, couples support groups, couple-to-couple mentoring and advanced training. For more information about the Healthy Marriages program, call (505) 842-5300.

New Mexico Marriages First Project, according to director Rebecca Holland, serves couples across all age groups and ethnicities in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties. The program's goal is to provide culturally appropriate marriage education and relationship skills training to married couples, engaged couples, couples interested in marriage and teenagers, thus strengthening marriage and reducing divorce through pre-marital education and marriage skills training courses, marriage enrichment events, couple-to-couple mentoring, a quarterly Marriage Lifeline newsletter and a community resource lending library. For more information about the New Mexico Marriages First Project, call (505) 891-1846.

Caring Couples Healthy Children, according to program coordinator Trudy Schoepko, is available to serve couples, who are unmarried, pregnant or new parents. The couples participate in four months of weekly relationship building workshops. In addition, a social services educator visit with the couples every week to reinforce relationship skills learned at the workshops and develops a family partnership agreement, which outlines individual and family goals, and offers supportive services toward realizing those goals. For more information about the Caring Couples Healthy Children program, call (505) 268-0024.

All My Relations serves American Indian couples and other under-serviced populations in Albuquerque and the surrounding areas, according to Linda Jones of First Nations Community Health Source. The program's goal is to implement a best practices marriage relationship education enrichment program with traditional Native American intervention, namely peacemaking and traditional healing. For more information about the All My Relations program, call (505) 262-6546.