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Nonprofit view: Marriage and Relationship Education Center helps create positive ripple effects

At a Marriage and Relationship Education Center booth, students were encouraged to write down what healthy dating means to them during the second annual Drug and Violence Awareness Expo at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster Thursday, April 28, 2016.
At a Marriage and Relationship Education Center booth, students were encouraged to write down what healthy dating means to them during the second annual Drug and Violence Awareness Expo at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster Thursday, April 28, 2016. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

This week, the Marriage and Relationship Education Center (MREC) turns 15 years old. With your help, a dream that sprang from a simple idea has become a mission that now serves about 3,000 individuals annually, with a positive ripple effect that’s felt across the region.

Torn by the issues their students were facing, lifelong educators Bill and Anne McKenna founded MREC in 2004. They saw a clear correlation between the rising divorce rate and the toxic fallout of unhealthy relationships. It impacts our homes and neighborhoods, our churches and workplaces, and ⁠— most of all ⁠— our children.

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With a handful of pastors and community leaders at their side, an initiative was born. The goal: to work with community partners in teaching individuals how to build healthy relationships and to sustain strong, lifelong marriages ⁠— the backbone of a safe and thriving culture.

Many of you rolled up your sleeves and worked alongside us, generously giving your special gifts and talents, making MREC’s mission a movement. There was no template to follow, and certainly no national brand to guide us. But, believing it was and is a mission from the Lord, we moved forward to serve the community with relationship education so marriages and families thrive.

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The testimonies we receive show the impacts of that mission.

When Ana and Daniel came to us, their marriage was in crisis. Daniel had become distant and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury. Ana and their children felt the impact. Through MREC, they learned essential relationship skills that gave them help and hope. Today, after much hard work, Ana says Daniel has become her best friend. In addition, the pair is giving back, serving in their own church’s marriage ministry — a ripple effect.

MREC’s original focus was on marriage and family, but the need to be more proactive quickly became evident and an outreach to students began.

After one MREC school presentation, the classroom teacher asked if anyone wanted to talk about what they’d learned. One student tearfully shared her realization that it was time to end a relationship. “At first, I felt lucky to be dating someone so popular,” she said. “Back then, he made me feel beautiful and special. But things have changed. He’s become controlling and jealous, and now it’s getting physical.” Two years later, the teacher saw this student at an event with her new boyfriend, finally in a healthy relationship. “Please thank MREC for showing me how to recognize an unhealthy relationship,” she said with excitement, “and tell them that now I’m helping my mom do the same,” — again, a ripple effect.

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Each day, it is our privilege to help the people we care about thrive at home, at work and in the community. As we move into our 16th year of service, we are grateful to all those who are standing beside us shoulder to shoulder and invite you to learn more through our website: www.mrecenter.org.

Amy M. Gilford is executive director of the Marriage and Relationship Education Center.

Each Monday, the Carroll County Times publishes a column from a local nonprofit, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it. To be considered, email cctnews@carrollcountytimes.com with the subject line “Nonprofit View.”

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