Joseph Procaccini wants to make American society "family-friendly."
That's why the 49-year-old graduate professor of education and management at Loyola College has embarked on what may seem a mission impossible at a time of high divorce rates and profound changes in family life.
Dr. Procaccini, an author of parenting books and a lecturer on business leadership and education, has initiated the Center for Family, Work and Education at Loyola's Business Center campus in Columbia.
The newly founded center will provide training in parenting skills, lobby for pro-family legislation and work to convince schools and businesses to be more family-oriented, he said.
The Loyola center is on the cusp of a trend -- America's rediscovery of the family's importance, said Amitai Etzioni, a George Washington University sociologist. Dr. Etzioni said that family advocacy centers have sprung up in Rockford, Ill., and New York City in recent years.
"There seems to be a trend in the '90s of a renewed interest in the family, which has become an endangered species," Dr. Etzioni said. "It was wrong to think we could do without it. Dr. Procaccini's work at the center is another step in that important trend."
Christine Genua, a Burtonsville parent with three young children, said Dr. Procaccini's initiative comes not a moment too soon.
"As parents, we are hanging by bootstraps," said Ms. Genua, who teaches adult education night classes. She took a family leadership skills class taught this spring by Dr. Procaccini.
"Nobody knows what they are doing in terms of parenting, and the course provides the essential skills. Everyone is expected to be a master parent, but I am convinced that we need training to be good parents just as any professional needs skills to do the job right," she said.
It is a viewpoint that Dr. Procaccini said he has made a hallmark of his teaching. A peripatetic lecturer, the college professor has addressed school, business and education groups in 45 states and authored books such as "Parent Burnout" and "Leadership As A Performing Art."
Dr. Procaccini hopes to draw upon Loyola's faculty to provide an array of training seminars and counseling skills. He also wants the center to develop materials and even provide taped telephone messages from family experts on a range of domestic issues for struggling families.
Dr. Etzioni said he sees merit in a center that supports the family in the workplace as well as in the home.
"Parents no longer can make ends meet unless both work outside the household and corporations cannot help but play a role," Dr. Etzioni said. "The parents tend to arrive home from work late and are exhausted. They have no energy or time left for the upkeep of the family. That is why programs such as flex-time are important."
Business leaders "keep complaining that we are bringing up young people without a work ethic who cannot function on the job," Dr. Etzioni said. "It is not just a question of skills. A good number of these young people have undeveloped personalities and a lack of self-discipline, and corporations feed into that by not allowing parents to discharge their duties."
Dr. Procaccini's venture has attracted the personal support of Don Wood, a former science teacher who is now a regional vice president of Maryland National Bank in Columbia.
"The center could have a major impact in any community," Mr. Wood said. "In my opinion, the real issue is communication between teen-agers, employers, school systems and community organizations. If that is fostered, the better the community will be. One of the key issues the center should deal with is family needs vs. company needs and how to meld the two."
Bill Rioux, executive director of the National Committee for Citizens in Education, a Washington-based national advocacy organization for parents in the schools, said that the new center at Loyola is unusual because of its broad approach.
Mr. Rioux's organization just completed a three-year project at Harlem Park Middle School in Baltimore that aimed at building parent support for children at the inner city school.
"What we learned after slogging along for months is that we had to broaden our approach and pay attention to other problems besides the kids in the schools," Mr. Rioux said. "It was not until we tried to help tackle other family problems such as medical care, poor housing and lack of food for some families at the end of the month that we were able to find some success."
He said that the other major lesson learned is that "the family has to be broadly defined -- some were aunts and grandparents and even cousins or close friends of the child. We learned to be very flexible about our notion of family. It really amounted to any nurturing adult."
Dr. Procaccini said that one of his key goals is to "make schools more sensitive to the fact that families are changing and train teachers to be more sensitive to children from other than the traditional two-parent family. Teachers are one of the most conservative groups in the general population and there is a lot of bias there."