Agency provides chance for couples to give smart love

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - How nice would it be if you could give your significant other the gift of smart love?

That gift is now available, for free, courtesy of a Multi-Purpose Community Action Agency (MPCAA) program called Love SMART (Strengthening Marriages and Relationships Today).

Love SMART is a 10-week relationship skill-building class featuring 15 discussion units, according to program instructor Lauren Battcher.

“We cover basic communication skills, conflict resolution and decision-making skills,” Battcher said.

“We emphasize relationship skills,” said program coordinator Ron Jackson. “This is not therapy. It’s not a lecture series. It’s conversation and it’s interactive.”

Each week features various relationship topics ranging from healthy relationships to dangerous patterns, knowing yourself first to smart communications, infidelity and distrust to stepfamilies and significance of fathers.

“We’ll discuss communication skills like taking a time out,” Battcher said. “Recognizing when we’re getting louder, and how to hold back. Complaining effectively, writing down a complaint and sharing. Does it inspire change or start an argument?”

Hands-on activities are part of each lesson plan, helping participants bring out their own feelings during conversations.

“In one (class) we make sculptures to show feelings,” Battcher said. “We tell them to describe their relationship types (through the sculptures). It just starts a conversation.”

LoveSMART also features guest speakers from various community organizations that provide helpful and related topics. Recent presentations included the Center for Women and Families, KentuckianaWorks, Bullitt County Pregnancy Resource Center and the Bullitt County HANDS (Health Access Nurturing Development Services) Program.

Love SMART is presented by MPCAA through a Healthy Marriage and Relationships/Responsible Fatherhood Program grant. Jackson said MPCAA was one of 60 nationwide programs to receive the federal grant.

“MPCAA developed the curriculum,” Jackson said. “Our proposal was to focus on the healthy marriage and relationship side. We were fortunate to receive (the grant).”

According to Jackson, MPCAA first developed Love SMART curriculum for lower-income clients as extra relationship advice and support.

Battcher said Love SMART was a relationship-based program for all types of situations ranging from marriage to dating at a younger age. Participants must be at least 18 years of age, though some current participants are 75.

“It’s not like a college course,” Battcher added. “It’s easier to comprehend. Plus there’s no studying or homework.”

“The idea here is to maintain focus and fun,” Jackson said.

MPCAA features other benefits for Love SMART participants, including free catered dinners during class breaks courtesy of Victoria’s Catering in Louisville.

“It’s not too often you have time for a decent meal,” Jackson said.

Free childcare is provided by Today’s Kids Childcare and Education Center.

“We’re fortunate and able to provide childcare for those who need assistance during class time,” Battcher said.

Participants receive a $10 Kroger gas card for each class they attend. Another attendance incentive is a $50 Wal-Mart gift card. Battcher said students who attend all classes are eligible for the Wal-Mart gift card drawing.

Hillview resident Teri Bailey signed on for a fall Love SMART class. The long-divorced grandmother was intrigued by an ad at a store.

“It was advice about relationships,” Bailey said. “I wondered about it and I called. My first question was do you have to be married and they said no.”

Bailey hoped that Love SMART would assist with all types of relationships. She referenced her own neighborhood, where she saw communication gaps between younger and older residents.

“I wanted to learn more about communicating with young people, with younger parents,” she said. “I don’t want to be someone who is disconnected.”

One skill Bailey learned in class was listening more as part of a two-way communication. She also understood the importance of maintaining a positive attitude.

“Classes like this, for people like me, help me communicate with others,” she said. “And it’s a lot easier to be positive. It truly is.”

The range of students in Bailey’s class included senior citizens, a mother and daughter, traditional-aged college students and even a professional wrestler.

“The students all seem comfy together,” Bailey said. “It’s a large group, like a big family. We don’t take sides. Everyone has something to bring to the table here. Some of the younger men offer great feedback.”

“We’re giving people tools,” Jackson said. “It’s a ten-week commitment, we thought it might be too long, but our students don’t want to stop when it’s finished.”

Battcher said each class includes a maximum number of 18 participants, to keep conversations at a controlled level and allow everyone participation opportunities.

“It’s all about making smart decisions,” she said. “It’s the do’s and don’ts of dating, but it’s so good for anyone. It’s good for any relationship, not just love.”

Love SMART is presented locally at the Multi-Purpose Senior Center in Shepherdsville. Current classes are scheduled weekly from 6-8:30 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesday. MPCAA will provide further classes beginning in January. More evening and day classes could be scheduled pending demand.

For more information about Love SMART, or to register for a program, call (502) 633-7162 or 543-4077.