Q&A: With Valentine’s Day Nearing, Marriage Advocate Amy Gilford Discusses Upcoming Events & Relationships During COVID-19
Written by Marriage & Relationship Education Center
Amy Gilford, executive director of the Marriage & Relationship Education Center in Westminster, works to elevate the importance of healthy marriages and families in the Carroll County community.
Gilford has served as executive director since 2015 with a focus on expanding programs, events, and community partnerships.
She graduated from Westminster High School in 1980 and is an alumna of James Madison University. She returned to Carroll County after graduating from college and married Jim Gilford, a member of the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame and former Westminster cross country coach.
The Times caught up with Gilford about MREC, relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the organization’s upcoming Valentine’s Day events.
Q: What inspired you to want to work with families in the community, with an emphasis on improving marriages?
A: It’s more like who provides the inspiration. First: My parents’ example (as co-founders of MREC) of rolling up their sleeves and scratching a marriage initiative out of nothing provided the inspiration for me to continue to invest my efforts into strengthening marriages and families, even after they’ve passed the baton. Second, I believe that healthy marriages and families are near and dear to the heart of God, especially because kids are involved, making it also important to me to do my part to raise the banner for these important societal institutions.
Q: What does MREC specialize in and how does the organization help others?
A: MREC is located in the beautiful Carroll Nonprofit Center and provides relationship skills programs and events for students, couples, and families. We partner with other like-minded organizations, schools and churches in the community to provide these services. Our specialty is caring about people and wanting to let them know that whatever stage of a relationship they find themselves in, we can offer a class or resource to help them succeed.
Q: Have MREC’s services been affected by the pandemic by any means? If so, how?
A: Like the rest of the world, we’ve moved into creative mode to search for and experiment with new avenues to share timeless principles that are essential to building great relationships. We’ve moved some of our programs to a virtual format (like the Healthy Choices class for public school students), while Preparing for Marriage is offered in a hybrid format. This means several modules are available online in advance and we wrap it up with an abbreviated but dynamic socially distanced, in-person experience in a small-group or individual setting. Our Mission Possible family event and two date night events last fall were all outdoors. Fortunately, the weather cooperated. As is typical in Carroll County, the community support has been faithful and generous throughout the last year. This is allowing us to begin preparations to launch an exciting new class called Adventures in Marriage, even as we prepare for a marriage and family conference this spring featuring some very high-profile speakers.
Q: How have you seen the pandemic affecting marriages in the community?
A: We’ve seen both positive and negative effects. Extra time together has forced many couples and their families to rely on each other more and learn to work together better, because they have to do so, to manage the stresses of isolation, an unpredictable economy, (terrible internet in our case!) and goalposts which seem to keep moving as we look for an end date. Many have enjoyed this extra time social distancing if you will. On the flip side, there are couples who are trying to balance working from home and managing their children’s school schedule, shared hardware and bandwidth, and for others, it’s job uncertainty, but for varied reasons, we have definitely seen an uptick in addictions, depression, and anxiety, and it’s heartbreaking. Additionally, the marriage rate dropped significantly this year as many couples were forced to reschedule their special days to 2021 and beyond.
Q: Can you describe the upcoming Glow Bowl Date Night and what you’re hoping to see from it?
A: We always try to do a small event in February to tie into National Marriage Week USA, held Feb. 7-14. This is a collaborative campaign held annually and designed to strengthen marriages, reduce the divorce rate and build a culture that fosters strong marriages. We have some special surprises planned along with a night of bowling. Our goal? Whether or not you can bowl strikes, this time out together (without kids) helps foster good communication, increase intimacy, and reduce the stress as you laugh and spend time together. Regular date nights help to build resilience to carry your marriage relationship during challenging times. Focusing on each other nurtures your relationship and helps build a solid foundation for your marriage.
Megan Woodward is a sports reporter for the Carroll County Times covering high school sports. She came to the Times in December 2015 and is originally from Hampton, Virginia. She graduated from Penn State in May 2015 and loves good conversation, particularly about Pittsburgh sports.