By KATHY SCHMUGGE
COLUMBIA — There are those in today’s society who portray parents as disinterested and youth as lacking self-control, especially in areas of human sexuality, but a true message of hope exists. Family Honor, a nonprofit organization, has worked tirelessly to improve communication between parent and child, thus empowering families to ensure that these stereotypes do not become self-fulfilling prophecies.
One concrete way Family Honor encourages parents to assume the responsibility as their children’s primary educators is by providing workshops designed to give parents the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to promote chastity and self-respect. Several age-appropriate courses, sensitive to the unique development of each child, have been developed.
Mary Ann Fey, the curriculum coordinator, has utilized her experience as an educator, guidance counselor and vice principal to convey a clear and precise message for parents to share with their children. In addition, Fey and Ann Nerbun, Family Honor’s program director, have published a book called, Understanding Chastity: The Mystery of Human Sexuality (Liguori Publications 2000), another educational aid for families.
One of their well-attended programs is “Changes and Challenges,” a two session course designed for sixth-graders and their parents. This course discusses God’s wonderful gift of fertility and the beauty of becoming an adult. It will be offered Feb. 8 and 21 at St. Joseph Church in Columbia. Other courses are “Leading and Loving” for parents with young children, “Real Love and Real Life” for parents and their seventh- and eighth-graders, and a senior high retreat.
With increasing requests for more programs in more locations, Family Honor believes their message is starting to resonate in the community.
“Independent research has affirmed Family Honor’s conviction that parent child connectedness is the most significant factor in reducing risky behavior in adolescents,” said Nerbun, citing the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, found in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Sept. 10, 1997. “The best news we have is that adolescents can be influenced and supported in living chastity by caring and approachable parents who send a clear message that chastity is a reasonable and wonderful goal,” continued Nerbun.
After a strategic planning session, the board of directors concluded a need for expanding their human resource department to accommodate the growing interest in the programs throughout the state and beyond. “We need more people willing to work with us as teachers, presenters, more people willing to promote Family Honor as an organization,” said Brenda Hucks, the executive director, who also mentioned the continued need for financial support as well. Family Honor is financed primarily through grants along with private donations.
In order to ease the shortage of teachers, Family Honor offers an ongoing teacher-training course called “Principles of Teaching Family-Centered Chastity Education.” One of the blocks from the 40-hour college level course was offered on Jan. 20-21 at the Providence Hospital Community Education Building in Columbia. Church leaders, prospective teachers and parents from the Carolinas and Georgia explored topics such as communication, chastity education, the complimentary roles of mother and father and how to transmit values to children. Participants were required to make presentations and conduct debates as a way to reinforce their ability to make convincing arguments for the proper use of God’s gift of love and life.
Vern Garcia, one of the new graduates, intends to apply what she has learned in her work with the youth at St. Martin de Porres in Columbia. “This course has been shear enlightenment, making clear things that I have known deep inside to be true,” said Garcia, who acknowledges that the parents need to learn and live the values they teach their children in order to make a difference.
One of Family Honor’s newer programs, F.O.C.U.S. (Families of Color United for Success) is an outreach created “to equip minority parents from underserved communities with disciplining tools of information, techniques and value-based principles” incorporating Family Honor’s existing chastity programs. Mary Ann Fey has been heartened by the receptivity of the African-American communities in Columbia. “This community is very aware of what hasn’t worked for them in the past and have no trouble articulating our hope-filled message that restores dignity to the family,” she said.
Fourteen years ago, one of the first donors, Abbott Christian Carr from Mepkin Abbey, knew the “issue of human dignity” was at the core of chastity education and urged Family Honor to reach out not only to the Catholics, but the whole community, which the group continues to do today. For more information on locations and times for future classes or how to help, call (803) 929-0858 or visit their website at www.familyhonor.org.