Love Letters From Kansas Campaign
by David Gibson
The Catholic Charities affiliates in the four dioceses of Kansas announced July 9 the launch of a public-awareness program called “Love Letters From Kansas,” designed to highlight the value of healthy marriages and relationships.
The new campaign “features a website, www.KansasLoveLetters.com, which is an all-encompassing resource for individuals and couples,” said Cynthia Colbert, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Wichita Diocese.
A key goal both of the campaign and the website is to call attention to Catholic Charities’ free-of-charge relationship education programs through advertising in English and Spanish, social media initiatives and other community outreach efforts.
“Ultimately, Catholic Charities of Kansas seeks to strengthen Kansas families by helping individuals and couples develop the concrete relationship skills they need to succeed,” Colbert explained.
A myth about marriage holds that it is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get,” says a website resource from the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. The reality, though, is that “successful marriages aren’t generally the result of luck or chance. Couples with enduring, healthy marriages typically share similar values and life goals, and have both a strong commitment and friendship in their relationship with one another.”
The website invites visitors to register for one of the “relationship education workshops and services” offered around the Midwest state by Catholic Charities. These include “Within Our Reach” marriage enrichment workshops for couples and “Within My Reach” relationship education workshops for others. The 12-hour workshops, conducted in a “fun and relaxed atmosphere” over the course of six weeks, are led by trained facilitators.
“Within Our Reach” marriage-enrichment groups “discuss topics like problem solving, decision making, communication, hidden issues and commitment,” while “Within My Reach” groups focus on topics like “smart love, problem solving, expectations, issues, and creating and maintaining the loving relationship you desire.”
Colbert said the “Within My Reach” workshops are open “to those who are single or currently in a relationship (unmarried individuals).” These sessions offer “critical, concrete tools that help participants develop more enriching and satisfying relationships.”
The “Within My Reach” facilitators “teach skills that are necessary to forming healthy and long-lasting marriages — conflict management, working together as a team, preserving friendship, etc.,” she observed. “Thus, the goal is that participants will begin to look upon marriage as a positive possibility.”
The “Love Letters” campaign is being funded under an October 2011 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to Catholic Charities of Kansas. The $1.4 million grant allows Catholic Charities to take its model for relationship education to the next level and to expand its “Marriage for Keeps” program.
“We are now offering relationship education workshops to married couples, engaged couples, dating couples and single adults interested in marriage in 12 cities across the state,” Colbert noted. She said the agencies’ family-support specialists also are able “to connect participants to community resources — job placement, parenting classes, educational assistance — depending on their needs.”
The “Marriage for Keeps” project dates back to 2006 when Catholic Charities of Kansas received HHS funding to participate in a national study examining whether efforts to strengthen marriages might also strengthen family environments and promote the well-being of low-income parents and children.
Catholic Charities of Kansas reports it has provided marriage and relationship education through the “Marriage for Keeps” program to some 1,100 couples since 2007. Today, aided by the new grant, the Charities affiliates also offer “Within My Reach” workshops to unmarried individuals.
Some people might wonder how marriage and relationship education fit in with the overall goals of Catholic Charities. Colbert commented that “Catholic Charities of Kansas is committed to stabilizing families in crisis and strengthening families for life.”
She added that relationships “impact the daily fabric of our society. Our relationship education workshops provide tangible tools for individuals that enhance the way they interact with everyone in their lives, not just their spouses or partners.”
Moreover, she observed, “the divorce rate in Kansas is almost 9 percent higher than the national rate.” She believes, however, that “good marriages can become even better” and that “broken marriages can be healed.”
Catholic Charities of Kansas hopes that its “Love Letters From Kansas” website will serve couples and individuals as a valuable resource. I asked Colbert whether steps were taken during the planning process to assure that the website would be able to connect with those it hopes to reach.
“In March 2012 we conducted focus groups in four regions of the state to obtain information from potential participants on messages about marriage and healthy relationships that resonate with them,” Colbert said. Planners also inquired about “potential barriers to forming relationships,” as well as how people in the focus groups “access information and the types of media they use on a daily basis.”
In addition, three different creative concepts for the public awareness campaign were tested. And participants in the focus groups encouraged the development of a website that indeed might “serve as the focal point of the campaign,” Colbert said.
“Every relationship has its own story. What do you want yours to be?” the website asks its visitors. “Strengthen your own love story,” it encourages them.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.