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Neighbors Helping Neighbors

August 24, 1986|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

Married at age 16, a mother soon after and divorced at 19, Shirley Long knows what it is like to be a young, single parent struggling to make ends meet.

"It was not easy but I did it," said the Altadena woman who is now 38, remarried and the mother of four.

It seemed natural for the unwed teen-age mothers in Long's neighborhood to stop by her home to talk about their problems. Seeking to improve her listening and counseling skills, Long took an intensive 41-week training course at the Pasadena Mental Health Center intended to sharpen the ability of people who want to help their neighbors as volunteers or professionals.

Recipient of Award

After finishing the course in 1983, Long started Our Time, a support and training program for young mothers having difficulty with a career or being a parent. So successful has Long been that in July she received a community service award from the Pasadena Black Municipal Employee Assn. and the Black Business Assn. of Pasadena and Altadena for her contributions as a role model for other backs in the community.

Long is one of 100 graduates of the training course geared to laymen who have little or no formal training in mental health but who have an interest in their community and have shown some natural ability in working with people.

Those taking the course, which will begin its sixth year in September, are trained to reach troubled people who do not normally seek professional help, said M. Cecelia Broadous, training coordinator.

A joint venture of the mental health center, the Pasadena Guidance Clinic, Foothill Family Services and the Psychological Center at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, the free course is funded with a $22,000 annual grant from the Los Angeles County Mental Health Department.

Training includes development of skills in listening, crisis intervention and dealing with substance abuse and domestic violence. The teaching is done partly by guest speakers from social service agencies and partly in discussion sessions led by Broadous.

Participants also become familiar with resources within the community so they can direct people to agencies where help is available.

Broadous said it takes 128 hours of training to complete the course, with classes held one night a week and one Saturday a month for 41 weeks.

"When I interview applicants, I ask them what their motivation is," Broadous said. "Some say they were once in a situation where someone helped them so they want to give back to the community. Others are already helping but feeling insecure about their skills. They are the natural care-givers but are not sure how to be effective."

Not everyone gets accepted, however.

"Some people are not right for this because they want group therapy or they think it is job training," Broadous said. The people she seeks are those who already help neighbors and friends but can gain confidence in their skills through training, she said.

Long was just the kind of person Broadous was looking for.

"I had some of these girls coming into my home and they could relate to me because I let them know I really cared for them," Long said.

"The course helped me become more skilled in listening and I learned that I don't have to solve people's problems--they can solve them on their own."

In the past year, 72 young mothers, mostly ages 14 to 16, have taken part in Long's Our Time program, held three mornings a week at the Girls Club on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. The program, free to the low-income participants, is funded by the city of Pasadena and the Pasadena Child Health Foundation. "I motivate the girls to go back to school and do something with their lives, even if they made one mistake," Long said. "When they make a change in their lives, like getting a job or getting off drugs, it is very rewarding."

Another graduate of the training program is Deborah Hill of Pasadena. Formerly a coordinator for the Visiting Nurse Assn. of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley, Hill was in charge of homemakers who visit the homes of people not able to care for themselves.

"I wanted techniques in dealing with difficult people, the elderly and dying," Hill said.

Even though Hill has left that job to care for her 2-year-old son, she still finds what she learned helpful. "The skills I learned are useful in everyday situations with friends and neighbors. When neighbors come over with problems, I have the resource information."

Another graduate is Diane Franklin of Pasadena, who took the course in 1984 and now works as a counselor in Pasadena at Haven House, a temporary shelter for battered women and their children.

"In 1979 I was a resident at Haven House, so I have been on both sides of the fence," she said. "I can share with the women (the knowledge) that there is life after divorce."

Listening Skills Taught

Franklin, 29, said she took the course because she was in therapy and wanted to learn how to communicate better with people.

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