Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fresh Start Program Receives $75,000 Grant from HELP USA

Dr. Peter Fraenkel
Dr. Peter Fraenkel, Director of
Ackerman's Center for Work and Family
The Fresh Start for Families Program has received a $75,000 grant from HELP USA, the organization that operates the homeless shelter where Fresh Start is provided.

Fresh Start for Families is a program developed by the Ackerman Institute’s Center for Work and Family. The Center provides programs for families living in homeless shelters, including families surviving domestic abuse and recent immigrant families. The Director of the Center is Dr. Peter Fraenkel. "Fresh Start helps poor mothers cope more successfully with the challenges of homelessness, life in homeless shelters and making the transition from welfare to work," Dr. Fraenkel explained. The program is offered at HELP Harbor, a domestic violence shelter in Manhattan, administered by HELP USA, well-known as one of the primary providers of housing and support services for the homeless in the United States.

In the Ackerman Institute – HELP USA partnership, HELP operates the homeless shelter and its employment, social service support and housing placement programs, while the Center for Work and Family provides the family support program and research evaluation. The partnership was initiated after HELP USA discovered that parent-child relationship difficulties often impede the ability of mothers in shelters to take full advantage of housing and employment services. Distracted by difficulties managing their own and their children's behavioral and emotional problems, the women often did not complete job readiness courses, job training or placements, missed crucial meetings with social service staff and did not follow through with housing appointments. Fresh Start was designed to fill a critical need for family emotional support and parent guidance.

"Our program is unique because most shelter programs focus on education or job training, and almost none address mental health issues from a family systems perspective,” Dr. Fraenkel said. “Fresh Start at HELP Harbor uses a variety of activities to help the families examine the emotions they experience and explores ways that they can manage difficult emotions, individually and as a family. The Program helps increase mothers’ awareness of their children’s emotions, expand the children’s ability to express themselves, and enhance the entire family’s ability to cope with stress."

"We are very pleased that HELP USA continues to partner with Ackerman at HELP Harbor," Lois Braverman, President of the Ackerman Institute, said. "The Institute has been involved in community programs for many years and the Fresh Start program allows us to work with some of New York City’s most vulnerable families. Most traditional programs dealing with domestic violence are expert-driven models in which therapists teach parenting and coping skills. The drop-out rate from such programs can be high, as the women involved often feel they are being ‘talked down to’ and being taught skills that they already know. Fresh Start makes use of a collaborative and respectful stance that discovers and supports women’s hidden strengths, and allows them to teach and support each other. As a result, women simultaneously learn new skills and regain their sense of competence and pride."

In addition to helping families, Fresh Start provides a unique opportunity to train the next generation of mental health professionals in community-based work with underserved families. During its 12 years, the program has been staffed by more than 100 Ackerman students and alumni, and graduate students in counseling and clinical psychology at The City College of New York, where Dr. Fraenkel is an associate professor. An upcoming article in the American Family Therapy Monographs by Dr. Fraenkel and his staff describes how students learn important skills and develop greater appreciation of the challenges and strengths of highly stressed families.

"This project has produced several outstanding dissertations and Masters theses," Dr. Fraenkel said, "but more importantly, it’s inspired many young professionals to dedicate their careers to work with families in poverty."

If you would like to support the Fresh Start program, click here, and select Center for Work and Family from the drop down box on the Donations Page.