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Improving lives: Tulsa's Center for Family Resilience works to help people across Oklahoma

Students interact during a Center for Family Resilience event.

At the Oklahoma State University Center for Family Resilience (CFR), people aren’t simply computer jockeys, analyzing data and making reports. The team is passionate about improving the lives of Oklahomans through research, outreach and engagement. Established in 2009 and with its main office on the OSU Tulsa campus, the CFR uses conferences, program evaluations and community events to educate and support people to reach their fullest potential, both socially and personally.

Dr. Michael Merten, a professor of human development and family science, became its director in February 2015.

“We want to come alongside community agencies, organizations and schools to help come up with solutions to some of the problems that exist,” Merten said. “A lot of times, we’ll collect data from various populations, analyze that data and report back to those agencies in an effort to come up with a timely solution.”

By analyzing and translating scientific data about families, schools and organizations, the CFR can develop strategies to help build resilience in the community. These strategies are implemented by human and social service agencies. The CFR also makes state and national policy recommendations to help strengthen families.

The CFR partners with numerous organizations around Tulsa to reinforce and assist the organizations’ work. It regularly interacts with the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, the Tulsa County Health Department, Youth Services of Tulsa, the Tulsa Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Tulsa Public Schools, just to name a few.

It has also partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game (PAX GBG) project in an Oklahoma City elementary school.

PAX GBG focuses on promoting peace, productivity and harmony in classrooms. CFR staff and graduate students train teachers in ways to address behavioral interruptions. The CFR provides program evaluation and support for PAX GBG. Merten said the CFR wants to expand the program across the state.

The CFR invites professionals in the human development and family science fields to speak at the Chautauqua, a yearly conference held in Tulsa with experts from across the United States. Past events have covered living with chronic illnesses, family caregiving parenting and behavioral regulation, and family risk and resilience.

“Our goal is to bring academics as well as community members together for a day,” Merten said.

The Chautauqua usually draws 80 to 100 guests, with both industry professionals and community members in attendance. The CFR also partners with Springer, an academic publishing agency, to publish a book after each event for the series Emerging Issues in Family and Individual Resilience. Each book chapter is taken from papers presented by the Chautauqua speakers.

The CFR hosts monthly research seminars on new concepts, theories and methods about risk and resilience in relation to health and well-being. These seminars allow the faculty, students and professionals who attend to learn new techniques to implement in their work.

In addition to the Chautauqua and research seminars, Tulsa community members can also participate in a variety of other programs and events offered by the CFR.

“We partner with community organizations in Tulsa to offer a free Hispanic health fair each year,” Merten said. “We’re able to offer this resource every year and give free health screenings.” He noted the benefit for some attendees: “It may be their only opportunity for a health screening.”

The CFR works with a Tulsa radio station to host a weekly discussion on a variety of topics, such as storm safety, mental health and other issues related to health and well-being. Listeners can call in and ask questions, receiving free advice from someone well-versed on the subject.

“We get to be a resource for folks in the community who may have questions about things that they generally don’t get the chance to ask,” Merten said.

Graduate students who work at the CFR can participate in projects. Often, they gather data from various community partners and analyze and write reports. Recent projects include evaluating and assessing needs for women’s health, youth development, tribal reintegration and school readiness programs.

He noted that the CFR has continued to grow since he joined three years ago. The needs of the community are constantly changing, and the CFR continues to adapt.

“I think our work is only going to grow,” Merten said.

The staff of the CFR is dedicated to creating a stronger, tougher community across the state of Oklahoma. Their research and engagement will foster a more resilient society for years to come.

“I love being able to interact on a daily basis with the faculty, staff and students who are affiliated with the CFR,” Merten said. “It is definitely team-oriented. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by such quality, hardworking people.”

Courtesy: OSU College of Human Sciences Magazine

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