Coronavirus: Clark County relationship counseling center adjusts programs to pandemic; Valentine’s gala goes virtual

Encompass Connection Center is taking its annual Valentine's Day event virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions. The event, as it was in 2020, usually focuses more on on entertainment and an evening out for couples. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS.

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Encompass Connection Center is taking its annual Valentine's Day event virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions. The event, as it was in 2020, usually focuses more on on entertainment and an evening out for couples. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS.

What do you do when you find yourself in the middle of an isolating pandemic but your nonproft’s mission is improving relationships?

You pivot, says Encompass Connection Center’s long-time Executive Director Lavern Nissley. He and his wife Ronda have taught transformational relationship skills to local couples and parents face-to-face through its hallmark RINGS (Real Intimacy and Growth Skills) approach for over 15 years. That is, until last March when COVID-19 upended workplaces, schools and social lives forcing people into their homes for extended periods of time.

Encompass had already started an initiative to make its RINGS coaching more available by providing a virtual option to the in-person meetings it was built on.

“We actually had that as one of our goals at the beginning of 2020, because we wanted to make it more accessible and create a greater continuity of our services,” said Nissley. “COVID actually sped that up.”

Utilizing a program called PATHRIGHT, created by a group of teachers, couples can access the RINGS content online anytime they want to work on it. The curriculum includes eight hours of teaching through videos, relationship assessments and interactive exercises that focuses on 13 core relationship skills.

“It’s not just education; we offer live coaching, usually on a weekly basis, either on Zoom or in person,” said Nissley.

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Coaching is optional, but strongly suggested. Couples who choose to only do the virtual portion without coaching complete the program only 5 percent of time, while couples who use a coach complete it 95 percent of the time. Funding is available from Clark County DJFS based on household income and family size. Encompass also provides scholarships to couples outside of Clark County due to donations from supporters who want to champion marriage locally.

Nissley estimates that 50 couples have benefitted from the new virtual format since it was released last spring.

“The response has been totally positive,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has said they prefer the classroom setting (where previous RINGS training was taught).”

Encompass is also pivoting concerning its annual Valentine’s Sweetheart Gala, held annually the second week of February to celebrate national Marriage Week USA. It will be offering a free 50-minute event at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 via Zoom with a theme of “Connect.” Couples and supporters can participate in fun, fast-paced exercises and enriching discussion virtually. All participants will receive a free “connection kit” ahead of time that includes assorted coupons and “goodies,” even some play dough. For more details or to RSVP, go to encompasscc.org or call (937) 250-1418.

“The virtual event is kind of an extension to where we’ve headed in the last few years,” said Encompass event planner Tessa Stump. “In the past, the event was more for entertainment value. Recently, it has moved more toward investment in those in the community who need healing. We want to get back in person, we want to be with families and couples, but there is a unique benefit to going virtual. We are really touching bases with those who really want to support this.”

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The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust an even greater amount of stress on couples. Thus the need for the theme of “connect.”

“It has the tendency to magnify the stress that is already there,” Nissley said. “We realize it is harder (to connect), but you can still have a virtual connection. You can still have your heart and mind stimulated, and we can do this regardless of circumstance.

“The need for marriage resources doesn’t shut down during a pandemic,” he added. “If anything, it ramps up.”

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