I haven’t shared a “how we got started” story in a while.  I know these are helpful and inspirational.  I will add this to the how to get started page.  Bravo to Carolyn. - diane

Healthy Marriage Project
October 13, 2010
by Brian Baker

There are many humble saints at Trinity Cathedral that do remarkable things for our community.  One of them is Carolyn Curtis who started an amazing non-profit that strengthens the relationships of couples as well as enhances the skills of parents.  Much of there work is focused on at-risk populations.   I knew of Carolyn’s work, but did not realize the role played by Trinity Cathedral as Carolyn was working to make her dream a reality.  I recently asked her to write about how she got the Healthy Marriage Project started.  Here’s her story:

Trinity Cathedral and the Healthy Marriage Project:  A partnership that has helped hundreds of families in our community

Our journey began in 2003, after over 30 years of practice as a marriage and family therapist, I went to a conference that changed my life.  During The Smart Marriages Conference, the leading professional conference for marriage education, I discovered that communities all over the United States were organizing and reducing their divorce rates by as much as 50%.  New research and programs had been developed with a new approach that focuses on learning relationship skills in a classroom setting. When I went to Smart Marriages I realized instead of helping one family at a time in my counseling practice, I could be reaching hundreds of families and changing our community.

I knew it would take a grass roots movement to realize my vision of creating a community where healthy relationships thrive, but I had no idea how to start one in Sacramento.  I had heard that most communities when they began this work had started with a collaboration of faith based organizations.  I approached Dean Don Brown for guidance.  Little did I know that Dean Brown was a “mover and shaker” in this community.  He helped to found several non profits, and had served on the boards of many more.  He laid out a plan of action for me. He suggested that I begin by forming an Honorary Advisory Board, and connected me with local leaders of faith based organizations.  He knew many, and guided me to people who would be most able to offer the support we needed.    Within six months, I had an Honorary Advisory Board with many of the most influential faith based leaders in our community, including David Thompson of Westminster Presbyterian, Metwali Amir of SALAM, Dr. Phillip Gougeaux of Calvary Christian Center , John Rieschick, Sacramento Catholic Dioceses, Phil Lee of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and Rick Cole of Capital Christian Center.  Eventually, every major faith was represented on our board. Within a very short period of time I had an organization with credibility.

Don then suggested that I meet with Bishop Lamb with his introduction. He was sure that Bishop Lamb would be interested in supporting this initiative.  Soon I was in Bishop Lamb’s office, and he offered three things:  1) We could start our organization under the umbrella of Episcopal Community Services; 2) The Episcopal Community Services Director, Jack Hanstein, would mentor our organization; 3) They would provide the funds needed for us to apply for our 501(c)(3) Status.  These three gifts were crucial for our success.  With this partnership with Episcopal Community Services, we immediately became a nonprofit being able to accept donations.  Within a year, we applied for and received nonprofit status.   Jack was a fabulous mentor because of his many years of experience helping many other organizations get started. He guided us to form our first board, write our by-laws, and supported our first grant writing endeavors.

We had our first community outreach meeting in 2005 with 12 churches participating.  All agreed to start a 10 Great Dates program. The inspiration for this program came from Jim Richardson.  While we were traveling with the choir in England, I shared my vision with Jim and Laurie.  Here I got my first dose of reality.  My expectation was that this mission was going to be enthusiastically accepted.  Jim responded that Trinity had done relationship classes in the past.  He discovered that the only people who attended were from other churches.  No one wanted to admit that they had a problem.  I now knew that we needed a program that was fun and safe with no group sharing.  I chose 10 Great Dates for our first program and it turned out to be the perfect program.  15 churches participated in the spring of 2005.  In 2005 and 2006, approximately 40 churches, synagogues, and mosques offered 10 Great Dates and 400 people attended 10 Great Dates programs in the Greater Sacramento area from Yuba City, Roseville and Elk Grove.  What a start!

In 2005-06, we received our first grant, $50,000 for capacity building from the federal government.  With this grant, and with the continued support of Trinity, we eventually reached approximately 75 faith based organizations in the area and provided 30,000 hours of relationship education.  We have regularly been on Trinity’s prayer list and part of the prayer chain.  I remember Shelley Mydans telling me when I was absolutely overwhelmed at the task at hand that I had more support than I knew.  Everyone was praying for us.  All of the support has lead to great things: from these beginning efforts, our organization has received national recognition, and I was asked to speak at the White House.

In 2006, we received another grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for $2.5 million to serve low income pregnant unwed couples or couples with an infant, the most fragile of all of our families.  Many of our participants are third generation without a man in the home, grew up in an environment of domestic violence, or have been involved with Child Protective Services and the foster care system. We have experienced tremendous success with this program. Our families are thriving.  86% of our graduates report improved family functioning after taking the class.  Fathers engage in child rearing and help more around the house.  Participants report less stress in their relationship, improved communication and conflict resolution skills.  Our participants are returning to school to be better able to support their children, making successful employment and career decisions, and setting goals for their futures. My favorite story is of a couple who said that now they put their children to bed, and then sit and talk to each other.  They said, “Now our children will have a fighting chance.”

During the past year, we have been selected as a training site for other organizations.  The Administration for Children and Families selected us as one of the top eight agencies serving TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients using innovative collaboration strategies.

Since you are our very first partner, we want you to be the first to know that we are changing our name to Relationship Skills Center.  We believe that this new name better reflects the mission of our organization and better serves our audience.  We know that relationships are more than just marriage.  Please help to get the word out about our organization and our new name and visit our web site at <>

All of these successes come from the help of our church family at Trinity. People in the transept prayed for me and the Project during the dark hours of starting a new organization, guiding me when I was lost in the darkness.  So if you ever wonder why I stand up at Trinity and share the success of the Healthy Marriage Project, it is because it all happened because of you, your prayers and your support.  Thank you and God Bless.

Carolyn Curtis
Executive Director