At a time when our society is in turmoil and many families are in crisis, dealing with more stressors than ever before, Life the Life South Florida is launching a 10-year initiative entitled “All In” for marriage and families, designed to transform Broward Country for the better through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. Live the Life’s board of directors is comprised of South Florida power couples with a strong commitment to families and a collaborative plan to achieve four key objectives:
- increase marriage
- decrease divorce
- decrease nonmarital childbearing, and
- increase church attendance.
“If we can help mend the fragmentation of families, we can reduce poverty, homelessness, incarceration, addictions, domestic violence and many other social issues,” said Lisa May, executive director of Life the Life South Florida.
They will kick off their ten-year initiative to transform Broward County for the better through healthy relationship education at their Happy & Together Hoedown on Saturday, February 12th at the Green Glades Ranch. (RSVP at bit.ly/HappyHoedown)
Initially established in Tallahassee, Live the Life points to studies showing the divorce rate is on the decline in Leon County compared to the rest of the state, and they have been strengthening marriages and families in South Florida for more than seven years.
Wayne Cotton, former owner of Design Flooring Distributors, is chairman of Live the Life in South Florida and statewide. Having been involved in other ministries over the years, he and his wife of 44 years, Deretta, decided that “rather than put Band-Aids on some of the social ills, we want to be proactive.”
Cotton said, “It really struck me when I found out that two-thirds of students in Broward County Public Schools do not live with their biological father… that was a real wake up call for us! And as a businessman, if I’m going to invest my time and talent, I want to get a good return on that investment.”
The initiative is about being more “laser focused,” said Cotton. “It appears to us that the model works, and our curriculum is well received, but can we demonstrate it in a big way? Let’s prove this model and take it from the churches more into the community.”
The cost of broken families
Dr. David Schramm, of Utah State University, did a study a few years ago trying to determine what divorce is costing our communities in what they need to provide in goods and services, noted Lisa May. “He came up with an average of $31,000 per divorce. Based on trends in Broward County over the past four years, we get about 8,600 divorces a year if everything stays the same. Multiply that over 10 years without inflation and divorce is going to cost Broward County $2.6 billion dollars in goods and services.”
However, she insists that does not have to be the case.
From their experience, by developing collaborative partnerships with churches and community stakeholders, Live the Life believes it can prevent a minimum of 20,000 divorces over the next 10 years, potentially saving $620 million dollars for Broward County.
They plan to quantify these claims by working with a third-party academic researcher to track that from a statistical point of view over 10 years. “There are sociologists who will say that what I’m telling you is accurate,” said May. “They have snippets of research, but no one has looked at a community and said let’s shoot for these four goals. Let’s target not just the faith-based community, but also the marketplace and then have an outsider come in and track this. Are incarceration rates down? Is drug abuse down? Is poverty down? Is the need for foster care down? Has mental wellness increased? It doesn’t matter what your faith is if you can correlate that the wellness of the family impacts the community.”
Building partnerships in the marketplace
Live the Life South Florida is all about creating communities where marriages and families can thrive.
Married for 39 years, Margaret and Scott Whiddon have served on the board of Live the Life since its inception in South Florida. “We know we’re making a difference, but we wanted more meaningful benchmarks we could share with the community to try and get the business community – in all industries – excited about the changes and what the possibility could be if there was more stability in people’s marriages,” said Scott Whiddon, former president and CEO of Causeway Lumber and a current real estate investor.
Live the Life is looking to collaborate with businesses in both the private and public sectors, making their Adventures in Marriage enrichment classes, Hope Weekend marriage intensives and marriage coaching available to a larger audience.
“It would be a benefit I would offer through HR just like continuing education, tuition reimbursement or health insurance,” said Whiddon. “It’s really important that if somebody is struggling, they should have a place they can turn to.”
Cotton agrees, “If you have a healthy employee, they’re going to be able to contribute and be more focused, and in the long run a health family makes for a better community.”
However, he stressed, “We need people to come alongside and partner with us.” As a graduate of Stranahan High School in Fort Lauderdale, Cotton suggests local alumni could sponsor a Real Essentials class in their former middle school or high school. “It would be a great opportunity for a business to make a difference in that community.”
Bringing the “Real Essentials” to youth
Real Essentials is a prevention piece being offered by Live the Life in more than 30 Broward County public schools. It is comprised of middle and high school level courses teaching social emotional wellness and healthy relationship education skills facilitated by Live the Life in collaboration with partners in the Church and private sector.
Since the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas tragedy, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has declared that every middle and high school student in Broward County public schools will receive a minimum of five hours of social and emotional learning, explained May, and Live the Life has responded to that need with their Real Essential classes.
“We have hired Florida State University Center of Prevention Research to conduct a comparative study on the change of behavior and thinking for a student that only gets eight hours of education, because we do a minimum of eight hours, versus a student who gets 32 hours,” said May. “Right now, we give these (Real Essential classes) to the schools. We charge nothing for it, and we have nine public high schools that are asking for full semester classes.”
In his experience with Live the Life, Whiddon said, “The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that by going to kids at a younger age, how much they get it, how much they understand through the exercises they do, and how they almost yearn for this because they are not really getting it in their home environment.”
Here’s one of the things students learn.
“It’s statistically proven that if students complete high school, which is a huge task, get a job, get married and have a baby – in that order – they have an 85% chance of staying out of poverty,” noted Cotton.
“If you catch them young and make an impact in their life, it’s not something they’re likely to forget. That seed has been planted, and I like that aspect of what we’re doing,” Whiddon added.
“Family is the backbone of our society,” emphasized Debbie Groeneveld. Debbie and Kevin Groeneveld, married for 31 years, also serve as Live the Life board members. Kevin was a marriage and family counselor at Sheridan House Family Ministries and now teaches at Calvary Christian Academy while Debbie operates her medical equipment company, Groeneveld Enterprises.
She shared that “seeing the devastation that divorce causes, whether it’s Kevin seeing it in the private practice and in the classroom with students, or us seeing it with friends who have walked through divorce and the effects it’s had on their families and kids, has just made us passionate about the commitment of marriage and the benefits of staying together – even when it’s not easy.”
Having attended Adventures in Marriage and a Hope Weekend themselves, the Groenevelds now coach other couples as they work through the tools they’re given in the program.
“Being able to see a couple who has come into the weekend with any multitude of problems, whether it’s adultery, pornography, addiction, just baggage that people come into a relationship with, and they’ve not been able to work through it – then to see them at the end of the weekend with a light at the end of the tunnel and feeling hopeful about their marriage is so encouraging and rewarding,” said Groeneveld.
“We all have things in our marriage that are hot buttons, and it gives you the tools to address those issues and guidelines to go through them.” Couples also explore their family history to recognize how it may be impacting their marriage along with ways to break unhealthy, generational patterns.
“When we follow up with those couples, it’s exciting to see something you’ve been a part of to grow and flourish,” she said.
Live the Life has also started a program for singles to teach them how to have healthy relationships, how to have boundaries, added Groeneveld. “A lot of kids are postponing marriage or having children without being married. Maybe they’ve seen the destruction of broken marriages in their own families, but we’re encouraging them that marriage is a good thing. It can be a very healthy thing if you bring the right tools into it.”
A Marriage Restored
Now married 16 years, Live the Life Board Members Scot and Danielle Seagrave have shared their past marital issues to guide couples in achieving a solid foundation to gain the reward of a stronger marriage. Scot is CEO of Credito Real USA, a finance company offering support for individuals who have below-average credit, and Danielle, having previously worked for several Wall Street firms and non-profits, now homeschools their four boys.
In telling their story of redemption, Scot shared, “I cheated on my wife and my kids, was a full-blown narcisit, sex addict and world class liar who had multiple affairs… I am ashamed of the person I was, but we share our story to encourage others to come clean and take part in a Live the Life class like we did… We are living proof that no marriage is beyond repair.”
It was during a period of separation in 2016 when Scot confessed everything to Danielle. Shortly later, Pastor Jerry Sander at Calvary Chapel Boca Raton encouraged them to attend a Hope Weekend marriage intensive.
In describing a Hope Weekend, Danielle explained that you “do deep dives into all the trigger points that cause couples to fight, such as in laws, children, finances, etc. They teach you how to have a healthy argument. You’re able to talk about the things that you’re afraid of or what’s hurt you and a coach guides you through that. So you walk away feeling like you learned who you are really married to and you get to work through a lot of pain and hurt that’s built up.”
The HOPE Weekend was a big part of the healing process for their marriage. However, through their involvement in helping other couples, Danielle said, “We have found that one of the massive barriers for couples in crisis when it comes to seeking help is SHAME. Specifically, when it comes to extramarital affairs, emotional affairs or pornography, Christians are so mortified and embarrassed by the behavior that they generally don’t seek critical help…and certainly not within the church.”
But she affirmed, “All the Bible verses about being set free are true, if we could only be brave enough to admit our struggles and share one another’s burdens! This is one of the things a HOPE weekend does for a couple. You learn you are not alone, and that we ALL carry so much hurt and shame and pain from what we’ve done or what’s been done to us. I can honestly say that there is likely nothing they have not seen and heard. It is so liberating to be surrounded and coached by a group of believers who pass no judgment on your sin and are truly there to help make you well.”
Find a Hope Weekend at livethelifesoflo.org
Marriage and relationship resources
Live the Life focuses heavily on bringing communication and care back into the home so that families can see measurable change. What follows is a listing of some of the available resources as well as upcoming events.
Resources for students and singles:
Real Essentials – middle and high school level courses teaching social emotional wellness and healthy relationship education skills facilitated by Live the Life and offered in more than 30 public schools in Broward County.
Singles Events – Boundaries are an indicator of mental health that assist in preventing additional stress or anxiety. When it comes to dating, having those boundaries in place can help you relax and enjoy the process of getting to know someone.
Adventures in Marriage – Appropriate for couples at ANY age or stage, this course helps couples discover better ways to meet needs, communicate, resolve conflict, express anger, avoid dirty fighting and understand how their personality styles impact relationships for better or worse.
Refresh & Renew – This is a four-week class addressing topics such as sexual intimacy, affair proofing your marriage, family origins. Attending Adventures in Marriage is a prerequisite.
The Power of US – A course designed for couples wanting to experience deeper levels of intimacy, knowledge, and understanding of one another
Hope Weekend – A marriage retreat that combines Christian principles with the latest research to provide specific, practical, attainable skills to help couples reconnect and develop or restore trust.
Start Smart – A comprehensive premarital education program with 4 key elements: a premarital inventory, 5 mentoring sessions, communication and conflict resolution skills, and a workbook of resources.
Personal Coaching – Our emphasis is on coaching couples or individuals with our communication tools and how to properly implement them into your lives and relationships.
Happy & Together Hoedown
Live the Life will kick off their ten-year initiative to transform Broward County for the better through healthy relationship education at their Happy & Together Hoedown. Grab your boots for a night of country fun on Saturday, February 12th at the Green Glades Ranch. Enjoy mechanical bull rides, a fire lasso performance, live music from the Shadow Creek Band, amazing food, dancing, S’mores by the fire pit, a photo booth, and the exclusive premiere of their short film “All In.”
RSVP at bit.ly/HappyHoedown
5 Love Languages Date Night
The 5 Love Languages Date Night Event with Dr. Gary Chapman will help you discover the tools you need to make a good relationship great, or a hurting relationship heal. Expect to learn, laugh, and connect as Gary reveals powerful insights that will give you a better understanding of yourself, and your loved one, in the ways that connect you most.
February 16 from 7 – 9 p.m. at First Baptist Church Fort Lauderdale. Register at moody.regfox.com/date-night-fort-lauderdale
It Takes Two Women’s Luncheon
Live the Life will host a women’s luncheon on March 29 with Vicki Rose, Author of Every Reason to Leave: And Why We Chose to Stay Together.
For more information, visit livethelifesoflo.org or call 954-909-0360.
For more articles by Shelly Pond, visit https://www.goodnewsfl.org/author/shelly/