Nonprofit View: Celebrating an anniversary means looking back, and to the future 

We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year, so we are looking back gratefully at our past and forward to an exciting future.

Thinking back to the official start of what is now the Marriage and Relationship Education Center and the journey of peaks and valleys that led to today, it's difficult to process the full impact of MREC on the community.  A marriage initiative that began in November of 2004 in the basement of our founders (and my parents), Bill and Anne McKenna, has grown significantly. Our initial mission was reducing divorce by preparing, strengthening and restoring marriages. Today, our grass-roots initiative calls the Carroll Nonprofit Center in Westminster home, and our high-impact relationship skills programs and events serve not only couples, but students and families as well.


So many are affected by the success or failure of marriage and its impact on the children, the community and workplace, that our programs and events often draw attendees from surrounding states.

Dan (a counselor) and Elaine Holler were on our initial advisory board, then Elaine became a member of our board of directors. Recently, she commented, “It thrills us to see how far you’ve come and we’re so happy to be a part of the growth you’re seeing.”

Chris and Elisabeth Combs are an example of how our programs serve people as they move through different stages of their relationship. The Combs were not dating when they attended the class called “How To Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk or Jerk-ette.” Soon after, the pair began seeing each other and eventually married. As newlyweds, they attended an MREC marriage class and even helped co-teach. Today, with two children, they say they still use the tools from that class to keep the lines of communication strong.

“We’re grateful for the practical, hands-on help,” Elisabeth says. “There is so much I could share. We continue to try to apply what we learned.”

Several years ago, we expanded our programming to include students. People often ask, why are you teaching teens? MREC was born out of a concern for children and a desire to see them raised in safe, stable homes by a loving mother and father. Then as now, caring for kids necessarily means caring about marriage. This means reaching them earlier with healthy relationship education. One of the most sobering truths in life is that we’re always teaching our kids something, intentionally or not.

In 2018, our educators presented fun and interactive healthy dating skills classes to 2,200-plus students. Visually, that’s over 50 buses loaded with kids. Over 96 percent of those students indicated that, after taking our class, they have a better understanding of what it takes to build a healthy relationship.

One teen recently said, “This presentation gave me a whole new way of thinking … I have a better understanding of how you have to think ahead on relationships.” Bingo! We connected with that student’s heart and are helping make a difference in how they make choices. On a more sobering note, another teen said, “I would like to learn more about how to keep my parents from getting divorced.”

That's why we continue to focus on the importance of marriage and are purposeful about bringing quality speakers to our community. Phil Gungor's internationally recognized “Laugh Your Way” event, coming in March, is designed to strengthen marriage and reduce divorce, just like MREC.  We're excited to partner with our friends at LifePoint Church to present this opportunity for couples to build intimacy as they laugh and learn about their differences. 

I don't think of us as lone rangers, but as part of a team who cares about our community and wants it to continue to be a safe and healthy place to raise our families. Many good people and organizations have come alongside us as partners, to put a hand to the wheel of this powerful movement of helping families thrive in an ever-changing culture. We are grateful to all of them and most importantly to the Lord.

It's a privilege to be a part of positive change in so many people's lives, impacting generations to come. We hope you’ll learn more on our website at

Amy Gilford is the executive director of the Marriage and Relationship Education Center. Reach her at