More families getting help at expanded center


Last year, after years of fighting, Linda and her teen-age daughter sought help at the Harundale Youth & Family Service Center, but the wait was three months.

The center didn't have extra space to add more counselors, and Linda and her 15-year-old daughter had to spend the entire summer without counseling. The Sun is not using last names to protect the privacy of the family.

This year the center moved to quarters twice as large at the south end of Harundale Mall, added more counselors and cut its waiting list to three weeks, said Adel O'Rourke, executive director of the youth services bureau.

The Rouse Co., owner of Harundale Mall, donated the space to the 26-year-old center, one of the state's 21 youth services bureaus. Harundale Youth Center spent about $300,000 renovating the 3,000-square-foot space.

The center's counseling service works with about 150 families at a time in family, group and individual therapy aimed at preventing teen suicide, helping parents to raise their children and dealing with sexual, substance and physical abuse.

Physical and verbal abuse brought Linda and her daughter to the center.

"We had a lot of communication problems," recalled Linda, 41, a divorcee. "I would say one of our biggest problems was my inability to control my anger."

She would scream, yell, call her daughter names and "every couple of months I'd smack" her, she said. The girl's grandmother, who watched her while her mother worked, was "a screamer," said Linda, who believes she picked up the grandmother's habit.

She said said she fought withher daughter because she did not feel appreciated. The divorcee said she didn't feel her daughter was listening to her. If the young girl wasn't quick to pick up a shoe, "I'd get angry and I'd throw the shoe at her," she said.

The fights often ended with the daughter yelling, screaming and storming out the room. Instead of dealing with the problems, mother and daughter tried to ignore them. But the problems would not go away.

Neither can remember the reason for the fight that brought them to the center. But Linda remembers her daughter's words.

"Go ahead and hit me and I'll hit you back," the daughter said she told her mother.

Shortly after that, they sought help at the center.

"I knew we couldn't continue that way. But I didn't seem to be able to stop," Linda said. "I was afraid that I was going to lose whatever relationship we had, so [a friend] recommended that we come here for help."

They went through four months of family therapy and started learning to express their feelings and talk to each other without fighting.

They also went through a 12-week program in which parents and their children learn to respect each other. The two groups met from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. one night a week -- adolescents in one room for half of the meeting, parents in another. Both worked on the same activities.

For example, we'd "ask them to draw or paint how they're feeling that day or how their family looks to them or what anger looks like," said Elizabeth Hewitt, former counselor to Linda and her daughter.

The groups would come together later in the night to practice what they had learned. They also practiced at home. Linda said her daughter learned that it was all right to express a differing opinion, while she learned not to impose her will on her daughter. But they're still learning how to live together.

"It takes practice," said Linda, who now teaches others what she learned in the program.

On Monday evening, she and her daughter sat next to each other on a sofa at the center, a stark contrast to a year ago, when the two could not stand to be in the same room together.

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