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Springfield, MO

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Photo provided by JENNIFER BAKER
Photo provided by JENNIFER BAKER

A Conversation With ... Jennifer Baker, Psy.D.

Posted online
What is Operation Us?
Operation Us is technically a federally funded project, a grant, to provide healthy marriage and healthy relationship education to persons living in 29 counties in southwest Missouri. I wrote the grant five years ago, and it’s administered through Forest Institute. It was a $5.2 million grant. We provide relationship education that focuses on how to communicate well. Communication skills are very big – how to resolve conflicts safely, and the importance of commitment. To date, we have trained more than 13,000 folks, including more than 7,000 teenagers. (Participants) get nine hours of relationship education, usually spread out over six weeks, though we do have an all-in-one-day program, Couples that Rock, and another one-day event, Hitched – or Not – and Hatching, for expectant parents or people who have an infant younger than six months.

Is there a link between personal relationships and professional success?
Oh, yes. We have a program called Winning at Work and at Home, and that’s one of the things we say – (relationships) can’t not affect work and home. If you’re doing well at work, and things are going well, and you feel happy, you feel challenged, and you have recognition at work, when you come home, you’re happier. You’re able to give more to your family, more to your relationships.

By the same token, if you’re not doing well at work, and you’re crabby and irritable, and you come home and you’re stressed out, you’re going to take that out on the people you live with. … We figure that 30 percent of lost work time is associated with family issues – not with physical health, like going to the doctor or having surgery, but with issues related to kids acting out in school – not getting along with a spouse or going through a divorce.

Why did you want to bring Operation Us to Springfield?
The desire for a healthy marriage or good relationship is pretty universal. People want that – the white picket fence. I saw that so many people did not have (the resources) they needed to get that. And I don’t think that therapy is always the best way to get that … and it’s costly for many people. I knew if we could make these programs accessible to people and make it sound fun … more people would take advantage of relationship education. … Most of our folks pay at least $25, but we give them meals for that. (This program) is not just for low-income couples. It’s for any couple.

So Operation Us isn’t therapy?
No. There are no individual sessions. With Operation Us, it’s all a workshop format. We do make referrals for therapy. I do think when people have been though the Operation Us program, they’re better consumers of therapy, because they know what they want.

This is the fifth year of a five-year grant. What’s next for Operation Us?
In (mid-June) the new requests for proposals will come down from the Administration for Children and Families. When we were at a grantee meeting in Baltimore about a month ago, we found out they’re going to be putting out requests for proposals for an additional three years, and preference will be given to existing grantees. …  But I’ve always thought, “What would we do if we didn’t have grant funding? How much would it actually cost a couple to attend? Many churches allow us to use their space free of charge. (Operation Us) is not a faith-based program, but of course, what we’re doing aligns itself pretty nicely with what a lot of churches want to have happen. We have other places where we’ve held the program (and) had to rent the space.

What are your goals now for Operation Us?
One of the things we’re working hard to get out the door is another big grant proposal that relates healthy relationships to one’s overall physical health. We’re looking for more ways to (explore whether) having a relationship helps you do better in terms of dealing with a chronic illness … such as diabetes or heart disease, something where they have to change their lifestyle. If (couples) can face it together, they will do a lot better than if it’s just one person trying to change without the assistance of their partner.
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