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One person's dream helps in Berkeley Springs

November 25, 2004|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Audrey Morris dreamed a pretty big dream - a dream for her community in which she saw a need.

"My dream was to have a full family resource center with courses in nutrition, teen pregnancy prevention, job readiness skills and parenting and literacy classes with no eligibility requirements, such as having a certain income," she said.

Her dream was to have these courses on site where the parents could bring their children with them.

Morris said she used as her model the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families in Hagerstown. She said she cannot take full credit because many community members helped to bring this program to Berkeley Springs.

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In many ways, the dream has come true. Since it opened in January 1999, Morris has been the director of the Morgan County Starting Points Family Resource Center on North Washington Street in Berkeley Springs.

A recent addition to Starting Points is the three-component nutritional program called the Meal Time Project, which involves the community assisting underserved people in Morgan County. The first component is the soup kitchen that offers an evening meal donated and prepared by volunteers.

The soup kitchen has been open since the end of October, serving soup and sandwiches on Tuesdays and Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m. This Friday, the soup kitchen will serve a Thanksgiving meal with turkey, dressing, vegetables and dessert. Morris said the kitchen serves the working poor and seniors.

"Sometimes the choice they have is between buying food or paying bills," she said. "If you can't afford to make a donation, the meal is free."

The soup kitchen is a community effort by area church volunteers, civic organizations and businesses. Two establishments in the community provide soup once a month from their kitchens, she said. Community members who would like to get involved can contact Starting Points at 304-258-5600, Morris said.

The second component offers six-week nutritional classes that focus on making healthy food choices and safe food preparation, storage and budgeting.

The classes, which are for parents and children, will resume in January, Morris said.

The third component will feature a "celebrity chef" from local businesses who will prepare a specialty dish and there will education and entertainment. A fee will be charged to participants and the chef's time will be donated, she said. Morris said she hopes to offer this to tourists and perhaps advertise the celebrity chef on the Berkeley Springs Web site.

Starting Points programs include:

· A socialization and kindergarten readiness play-group program for children ages 3 to 5 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. "This is not a day-care center," said Morris.

· A support group, Mommie and Me, is offered on Tuesdays to mothers who can bring their children with them. The mothers can socialize and learn parenting skills and get support from other mothers, Morris said.

· A baby pantry offers free clothing and child-care essentials for parents of children from birth to 5 years. The articles are donated by the community and grant money pays for diapers and formula. The pantry is open to anyone, she said.

A meeting room is available for any regional agency outreach program that serves Morgan County clients, she said.

Renovations have been ongoing at the building over the years. Morris said the original area included the play group and the staff offices.

The expansion now includes space for AmeriCorp Literacy Program members and for Federal Title 5 employees who retrain low-income people older than 55 to enter the work force.

West Virginia received recognition last year as the national Starting Points model. The state has 17 centers, she said.

Starting Points is supported by the West Virginia Governor's Cabinet on Children and Families through federal, state and private funds and through a grant project of the Family Resource Network of the Panhandle, Morris said.

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