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Centers give families a hand

Family Connection facilities offer food, counseling, classes

SHARE Centers give families a hand

CLEARFIELD — Hard times seem to hit some people harder.

In Layton, a 30-year-old mother has just found out that her husband, an unemployed construction worker with a minor criminal record, was turned down for a job because of his past. She doesn't work because two of her four children need physical and occupational therapy.

"I don't know how we're going to make our house payment," said the woman, who did not want to be identified. "I might not have a choice and might have to go to work, and it makes me cry. I won't be able to take my kids to therapy anymore."

Her story has a familiar ring to staff members at Clearfield's Family Connection Center. They hear all the time about how people's pasts won't leave them alone, no matter how hard they're trying to fix today.

Utah's 13 Family Connection Centers can't really help with that — but they can offer food, counseling, therapy, classes and workshops to help families keep themselves and their lives together.

A typical person helped by the Clearfield center is a single mom with two or three children under the age of 11 who is getting job training, using food stamps and getting some kind of public assistance. Often, she has never been married, was physically or sexually abused as a child and grew up in a single-parent or dysfunctional home with drug or alcohol abuse.

The center is a private organization with a budget of $953,000 this year and about $1.5 million next year, says executive director Sharon Anderson. Most of its funding comes from federal sources, with some state and county funding.

Each of the state's Family Connection Centers is independently operated, so they offer slightly different services. Besides the Clearfield facility, at 1360 E. 1450 South, centers can be found at Hill Air Force Base and in Cedar City, St. George, Price, Roosevelt, Sugar House in Salt Lake City, Midvale, Bountiful, Ogden, Orem, Clearfield, Brigham City and Logan.

More than 19,000 people live in poverty in Davis and Morgan counties, according to statistics from the Clearfield Family Connection Center, which helps serve them. Anderson said 95 percent of the center's clients are living at or below the poverty level.

The Clearfield Family Connection Center Food Bank serves 700 to 800 households monthly and last year provided emergency food assistance to 6,231 people, Anderson said.

Through a community development block grant, the center is receiving enough money this year to buy a building to house its food bank. "Instead of spending $30,000 a year for rent, we can use that money for programs," Anderson said.

With those savings, for instance, the center plans to hire a case worker to sit down with people who need food to examine how they spend their money and see if it can be more wisely spent, she said. "If somebody would sit down and help them, they'd do better in the long run."

Anderson also knows that the government can't end domestic violence or divorce, two broad problems that greatly contribute to the center's caseload.

"We have got to start watching out for each other," she said.

The Clearfield center is helping people do just that: Last fall the facility organized a program called United Neighbors to help people learn how to work together.

Danielle Falcione, the center's outreach director, said most of the center's workshops and classes, presented throughout the year, are free because they are funded through the United Way. Typical courses offered include anger management, children's self esteem and premarital counseling.

Falcione offered these statistics, gathered by the Utah Department of Human Services' Division of Child and Family Services, on poverty in Davis County alone:

16,017 children live below the poverty level.

1,128 children of school age are homeless.

Average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $730 per month.

1,400 families are on waiting lists for public housing.

Fifty percent of women and children who are victims of domestic violence turn to welfare for support, Falcione said.

Anderson, who has a master's degree in psychology, doesn't believe in just handing things to people.

"Teaching people to be self-sufficient is the answer for the long term," she said. "Our goal is self-sufficiency and trying to help people before problems overwhelm them. We want to help women be better moms; help children grow up and be productive, not hurtful."

The center's programs target such goals.

"We are known for our crisis respite nursery," Falcione said of one service that allows parents to drop off children for up to two hours a week. "The majority of families who use the nursery are low income and don't have the support other families do."

The center also takes children from less than 1 year old up to 11 years in crisis situations for up to 72 hours. Family stress is the most common reason mothers leave their children in the respite nursery, she said. "Mom may need to get a protective order, or single moms end up in a hospital with no place to take their children."

In the first nine months it was open, more than 100 children used the Bountiful nursery, and the numbers are increasing, Anderson said.

"I think it's sad that we need places like the Family Support Center," she said.

"A lot of people are scared to ask for help. All families need support. Everybody needs support," Anderson said. "We have got to evolve into a caring society."

E-MAIL: lweist@desnews.com