More than a decade of strengthening Oklahoma relationships!
Oklahoma’s preventative family-strengthening work began in the late 1990s as the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative (OMI). State leaders sought an innovative strategy to create prosperity by addressing social problems that were hindering economic growth. One OSU economist wrote in an editorial, “Oklahoma’s high divorce rate and low per-capita income are interrelated. They hold hands. They push and pull each other. There’s no faster way for a married woman with children to become poor than to suddenly become a single mom.”
Soon after, a wealth of groundbreaking social sciences research pointed to the benefits to children of strong, healthy families. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services allocated Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) funds to create a statewide service delivery system for marriage and relationship education using the renowned Prevention and Relationship Education Program (PREP®), which had been used in every branch of the military and the subject of several long-term impact studies showing lower rates of premarital break-up and post-marital divorce and a greater likelihood of relationship satisfaction and positive communication. The faith community also took initial steps in support of these efforts by pledging to better prepare couples for the complexities of marriage. Finally, the most respected researchers, sociologists, and policy experts in the country were recruited to contribute to the intellectual framework of the initiative. Since inception, this Research Advisory Group has ensured that services are grounded in the best available social sciences research and that leaders throughout the country have the benefit of learning from the innovative strategies being tested in Oklahoma.
For the past decade, the OMI has boasted a growing service delivery system and continually created partnerships in the community to ensure knowledge of and access to free services. To date, we have trained more than 4,000 community volunteers to deliver research-based curricula in a variety of settings. These professionals and paraprofessionals, representing numerous community organizations, agencies, and faith groups, have stepped up over the past decade to serve as change agents in their communities. This system has created opportunities for more than 400,000 Oklahomans to learn vital relationship skills.
Over time, we have been committed to following the research, using everything we know about couples, families, individuals, and children to create and refine a comprehensive set of services to meet the needs of numerous populations, with a special effort focused on serving low-income participants. One thing we learned is that relationship skills can be adapted to the needs of youth, single adults not currently in a romantic relationship, for workplace settings, and for fathers. And, we began hearing about the desire and need for these services. In response, we expanded the service delivery system to include service strategies for these and other populations.
With a vast array of services and target populations in place, it became necessary in 2014 to expand our brand in order to effectively communicate our mission. Project Relate became the umbrella brand and connecting point for all family-strengthening services. The important work continues and great things are on the horizon.