Oct. 13, 2003 – One-day conferences sponsored by the Human Services Department's Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program that were held recently on St. Thomas and St. Croix were not focused on helping participants to gain employment.
Their purpose was to assist women and men with the challenges of raising a family in today's world.
The JOBS unit in the territory enforces the federal welfare mandates, but "getting people jobs does not get them out of poverty," Lennox Zamore, director of the JOBS program, said. "We need to help them through self-proficiency."
The conferences, held in collaboration with other government agencies, were aimed at helping people avoid destructive decisions and make constructive choices, Zamore said. "We believe family structure has a lot to do" with whether a family is able to lift itself out of poverty and, say, buy a home, he said.
The conferences were intended to bring men and women together to discuss fatherhood, the empowerment of women, building strong relationships, finances, purchasing property, parenting, academic excellence among children, and coping with conflicts in a relationship. However, most participants were women, Zamore said. So, he plans to do another conference in each district for men.
While it is not easy to get men to participate in conferences of this type, "there are ways to do it," he said. "If they wont come to us, we will come to them — because we need to get the family together. In reconstructing the values of the family you need men, so that they can teach their sons to break the cycle."
Zamore said that in many cases couples don't make plans for their families and don't discuss, for example; how many children they want to have.
"We want people to start dealing with marriage," he said. "It's called shaping your family and your future."
Zamore hopes through the conferences to encourage parents to discourage the onset of sexual activity among teen-agers by promoting abstinence. "Responsible behavior can prevent costly mistakes and help save lives," he said.
High schools in the territory are facing an "alarming high" incidence of AIDS, he said, and he hopes to get this information out to parents and guardians.
Although one of the topics of the coming conferences will be children, the sessions will be only for adults. But Zamore said he hopes to involve youngsters in future conferences.
Last month's day-long conferences were open to clients of various Human Services programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Stamps, Public Housing, and Paternity and Child Support, as well as the general public. They took place Sept. 24 at Palms Court Harborview on St. Thomas and Sept. 26 at the Divi Carina Bay Resort on St. Croix.
The message that was shared with parents was received well in both districts, according to Zamore. "You saw pain," he said. "You saw women really wanting and being more willing to "share the blame and take personal responsibility for your body and how you conduct your life."
By encouraging women to take some personal responsibility and develop common-sense rules for making choices, the conferences empowered them to change, he said.
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