Family discussions, games, a meal together, parent discussions and youth activities are all part of the upcoming Strengthening Families Program. The free program is designed for parents and youths 10-14 years old and will address problem-solving and communication skills and offer tools on how to deal with peer pressure and frustration.

"I read the other day that 40 percent of babies born are born out of wedlock - 40 percent! So there is definitely a breakdown in the family structure," said Bonnie Gracia, prevention coordinator for Umatilla County Alcohol and Drug Services.

Umatilla County is offering the program, which was developed by a research endeavor at Iowa State University, for the fifth time since last July.

It begins Monday, April 6 from 5-7 p.m., at Agape House, 500 Harper Road, Hermiston. The sessions will continue on Mondays for seven weeks.

Each week there is a different topic is discussed. After sharing a meal together, the family separates and the adults participate in discussions and the youths are in another area participating in their own activities and discussions.

In the last half hour the family re-unites and the session finishes up with a family-related topic.

Topics for adults would include what youth this age are like, making rules and consequences, how to solve problems and ways to show love and support.

Youths will tackle such topics as how to handle frustration, preparing for teen years, avoid problems with drugs and alcohol and strengthen family communication.

As a family, topics include solving problems together, what makes your family strong and having fun in activities and games.

Gracia said the county's received positive feedback from past sessions.

"The response has been very positive," Gracia said "A lot of the families have been able to use the information and the tools they've gained with the program and have seen results with their kids."

Gracia admitted some of the youths aren't too keen in initially participating, however, in time she said they end up gaining from the experience.

"Most kids, as you would imagine, are initially resistant. They come because their parents say they have to. By the second, definitely the third session, they're into it," Gracia said. "They seem to enjoy it and there participation level is better."

Gracia said she's received feedback from youths regarding increased communication with their parents after participating in the sessions.

"One of them told me she liked one of the discussions and communicating with her parents," Gracia said. "She said that was very helpful because before she came to Strengthening Families she didn't feel like they were listening to her and now she felt like they were making an effort to hear her."

Gracia, along with Juan Valdez, a certified alcohol and drug counselor, and Myra Zepeda, support staff and a trained facilitator, will lead the sessions.

For more information or to register for the free program, call 278-6330 or (800) 736-8831.

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