At a time when a lot of politicians are talking about "family values" and "the disintegration of the family," a small group of people in West County are quietly doing something about it.
Next week, the YWCA West County Family Support Center -- a coordinated effort of county and state agencies -- will open at 8379 Piney Orchard Road in Odenton. The center's goal is to provide a myriad of services to young families, many of whom have had difficulty getting the support they need.
"There's just not much in the way of services in West County," said center director Margurite Askew. "We will be trying to strengthen young families, to enhance their parenting skills. The main focus here will be parenting."
Yesterday, workers were still adjusting pipes in the ceiling and working on other last-minute touches. The toddler-sized bathroom still needed to be finished, as did the health education section, the lab and the counseling rooms.
Ms. Askew said that the center will start off slowly, concentrating on educational programs, such as Adult Basic Education classes and GED preparation, and pre-employment classes, such as computer and secretarial training.
But by December, she hopes to have a full slate of programs in place, including prenatal care, immunizations for children, substance-abuse counseling, family-crisis counseling, nutrition classes and child-development activities.
The largest section of the 4,000-square-foot center, located in a small office park south of Route 175, is dedicated to child development. In a bright room filled with toys and child-sized furniture, child development specialist Lisa Pogge will work with parents, stressing age-appropriate play, proper nutrition, and how to help infants and toddlers learn.
"The way children grow up is influenced a lot by the first three years," Ms. Pogge said. "We're trying to set some better patterns here. Many of the moms are just very young. They lack basic knowledge."
Ms. Askew said the center will be tailored to what residents want and need. She hopes to serve young parents, those under 25, with children under age three, although others will not be turned away.
"After 4 years old, there are other services that kick in, like Head Start and pre-kindergarten," said Ms. Askew. "But there's not much for younger children."
She estimated the center will serve about 50 families each month, primarily from Fort Meade, Meade Village and Pioneer City.
All services are free, and the center will use a van to pick up clients who don't have transportation.
The concept behind the center -- a multidisciplinary, preventive approach to delivering family services -- was developed by the Baltimore-based Friends of the Family Inc., a collaborative project funded primarily by the state's Department of Human Resources.
The Odenton facility will be Friends of the Family's 15th center in the state, Ms. Askew said.
Centers typically are located in "high risk" communities, where staff work to prevent or minimize a number of social problems, including infant mortality, teen pregnancy and child abuse and neglect.
The Odenton center will receive $150,000 annually from Friends of the Family to support programs and pay the seven-member staff. Many additional services will come from county and state agencies, such as the Anne Arundel Health Department, the Board of Education and the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
By having so many services under one roof, Ms. Askew believes the center can help families deal with their problems and become stronger.
"For a lot of families, they may have started out trying to get help, but didn't follow through," she said. "It's really difficult when you have to go to the local health clinic for one thing, up to Glen Burnie for something else and then to Annapolis for something else. It just gets to be overwhelming."