UNCG and Phillips Foundation Work To Create Healthy Relationships Initiative


Domestic violence and abuse is one of those iceberg issues, what we see of it is just a small portion above the surface with much more going on underneath, unseen and unacknowledged. And just like an iceberg, it seems like a faraway problem, easily avoided, at least until you wander unknowingly into its path.

Now, thanks to a partnership between the Phillips Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s (UNCG) Department of Counseling and Educational development, local people will have innovative tools and information at hand to create healthier relationships and to remove themselves from dangerous, or even life-threatening ones. Called the Guilford County Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI), the effort will work across a broad spectrum of areas, connecting resources and getting them into the hands of the people most in need of them.

“In 2013 and 2014, Guilford County led the state in domestic violence homicides,” UNCG’s Dr. Christine Murray said. “And locally we are still seeing one divorce filed for every two marriage licenses granted in the county.”

How the group hopes to tackle the problem, Dr. Murray said, is going to be through targeting three main areas of activities and opportunities. The effort will begin with an official launch of the organization in February.

The first target of the HRI will be that of community mobilization. A steering committee will be formed from 25 individuals in the community, including people working throughout both public and private interests – educators, social workers, counselors, law enforcement, clergy, community leaders and others.

“We want to really connect with the existing resources we have in the county and bring them together,” Murray explained. Differing viewpoints and areas of coverage can lead to new connections. “We want to develop upstream inventive resources that can be available to people before they have problems.”

The second targeted area will be in social marketing. Doing so will make use of social networking technology to get the messages out to a greater number of people.

“We want to use both digital and face to face strategies to get people the needed info,” Dr. Murray continued. “Our primary focus is on relationships for couples and families, but we also want to be there for singles who have needs or people who are having relationship problems in the workplace. The skills learned for one situation really do transfer over to other parts of life.

“We’re also going to be working with UNC-TV to create a sub-campaign to reduce the stigma of relationship problems and getting help,” she said.

Christine Murray, left, associate professor of counseling and educational development, talks with a student on April 27, 2012. (UNCG Photo/Chris English)..

Christine Murray, left, associate professor of counseling and educational development, talks with a student on April 27, 2012. (UNCG Photo/Chris English)..

The third aspect of the HRI approach will be in developing education programs to strengthen family relationships and wellness. Initiatives are underway to create “Safe Conversations” programs with local facilitators as well as a pilot program within the schools to promote family relationship building. These will be coupled with a series of online educational programs designed to be viewed and used by couples.

“People aren’t really trained in relationships anymore,” Dr. Murray said. “We teach kids math and reading, but we don’t teach them how to build strong, respectful relationships.”

While that is definitely one of those upstream interventions that will pay over the long run, the immediate need is strong in Guilford County.

“Those domestic violence homicide numbers are really telling,” Dr. Murray said. “While Guilford County wasn’t at the top of the list for 2015, the rates here are still very high. Last year just over 5,000 people in the community were affected by ongoing domestic troubles. When you look at all the data, the homicides are only a small percentage of those cases and then there are the cases that are never reported to anyone.”

Those 5,000 cases were handled through the Guilford County Family Justice Center and the numbers include both primary and secondary victims. The victims were not just in the areas of traditional domestic violence, but also sexual assaults, child maltreatment and elder abuse, all areas the HRI hopes to provide assistance in.

‘Dr. John Gottman (an internationally acclaimed psychology professor who worked in marital stability and relationship analysis) said that most couples in relationship trouble wait an average of six years before reaching out for help,” she continued.
“That is the needle we want to move,” Dr. Murray said. “If people reach out earlier, when they first start having problems, they can get help and many times fix the problems. You can imagine if people are already years in and entrenched in their problems, how hard it is for them to accept help and make changes.”

Agencies and organizations participating in the Guilford County HRI include: Partners Ending Homelessness, YMCA of Greensboro, Teach for America, Greensboro Children’s Museum, United Way of Greensboro, United Way of High Point, Youth Villages, Say Yes To Education, The Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, Guilford County Family Justice Center, Ready For School/Ready For Life, Guilford County Department of Social Services, Guilford Green Foundation, Family Service Of The Piedmont, Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, Guilford Education Alliance, Greensboro Public Library, Greensboro Parks & Recreation, Center For New North Carolinians, Guilford Child Development and YWCA of Greensboro.

The Phillips Foundation was created by Kermit G. Phillips in 2002 and fully funded in 2014. A successful real estate developer, Phillips created the foundation to give back to the community and create positive change through impact investing, strategic grants and original programs. You can learn more about the foundation at