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Nonprofit View: MREC faced changes during pandemic, came through it stronger | COMMENTARY

Ch-Ch-Changes, turn and face the strange …

There isn’t another song quite like David Bowie’s “Changes” that confronts us with the certainties and unknowns of life. Since March of 2020 it seems like the changes have been swift, and often unexpected.

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As the area’s voice for healthy marriages and families, we at the Marriage & Relationship Education Center are often asked about relationship trends we see, particularly due to COVID-19, so we try to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening nationally as well as locally. To be honest, none of these trends has changed our mission. In fact, all the “strange fascinations” have forced us to be even more intentional and resourceful.

We found new ways to provide classes with a hybrid effort: small-group or in-person meetings, combined with virtual presentations and meetings. This format actually gives the couples more time to process the on-demand class material before we meet, ensuring that we can go even deeper in our content when we meet. This approach adds new value to our efforts to prepare couples for healthy, lifelong marriages.

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Using a little creativity and ingenuity we offered outdoor events as well. One of my favorites was the Smokin’ Hot date night, an evening that included a huge bonfire along with some fun activities and relationship skill building (probably not what you were thinking at first, right?). Close on its heels was Mission Possible, an interactive program that focused on strengthening parenting and family relationships. This was held in partnership with Rising Above Addiction.

Virtual coaching helped us provide a whole new way to serve couples who found themselves under unique stresses during the pandemic. Many had to balance work, finances and teaching their children at home. Thankfully, the latter will be behind us for the 2021 school year. But the virtual coaching option will remain as a service. Another value added.

Continuing to serve Carroll County Public Schools students with relationship education was one of our biggest hurdles. Since no visitors were allowed in the schools this year, our team shifted, and worked tirelessly to modify interactive, in-person classes, into engaging, virtual experiences.

We were truly hesitant. Yet the results exceeded our expectations. It was so rewarding to see the students actively participating using Pear Deck for Google Slides. Ninety percent of the teens indicated that our presentation helped them better understand how to build a healthy relationship. They used descriptors like: helpful, amazing, reliable, educational, informative, fun and interactive. It was fun for us, too! Of course, we look forward to next year when we can see smiling faces in person instead of talking to a screen full of Skittles.

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The changes we’ve experienced were mixed with discomfort at times but we are stronger because of the struggles. We owe a debt of gratitude to our community partners, volunteers, and donors for the faithful love and support that overwhelmed us through the pandemic.

This summer we’re excited to announce that in honor of our founders’ 60th wedding anniversary, the board of directors has launched the Bill & Anne McKenna Legacy Fund to help ensure the long-term viability of MREC. Our goal is to raise $60,000. We invite the community to be a part of this important campaign which has received a gift of $15,000 to be used as a match this summer. To learn more, please visit mrecenter.org.

Amy M. Gilford is the executive director and sexual risk avoidance specialist for the Marriage & Relationship Education Center.

The Carroll County Times has been publishing a regular column from local nonprofits since 2015, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it, as our editorial, typically on Mondays. Nonprofits play a critical role in our community and we have appreciated their participation in the Nonprofit View, which will discontinue after this week.

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