Before Us, It Was "Police Stations and McDonald's"
IN SANTA FE, A CHURCH AND A SYNAGOGUE
May 16, 2010 by B. Israel
Max August remembers what court-ordered custody transfer looked like in Sante Fe, New Mexico, before he helped start two CRC Safe Haven Access Centers two blocks from each other on Barcelona Road, in 2004.
"They would do transfers at police stations and McDonald's," August, the Center Director, says. "At the McDonald's, the child would go in one door with one parent, and get shoved out another door with the other parent."
To August, a retired family therapist who had moved to Sante Fe from Los Angeles, it was clear that the fast-food version of custody transfer wasn't working. Buttons were pushed. Tempers blew. August became aware of the problem as a member of a men's group where some members were going through divorces. And he didn't like what he was hearing about.
"People carry show so much baggage through separation and divorce that just seeing each other can cause so many emotions," he said. "That emotion was displayed and even acted out on in front of the kids. My whole focus has been on the kids– to make it better for them."
So August started a New Mexico nonprofit, Children First, which began offering co-parenting workshops, and he soon linked up with a leader in Monitored Transfer that was at the time setting up Safe Haven Access Centers up and down the East Coast, the Children's Rights Council (CRC).
"It became a no-brainer when I saw what CRC was doing," he recalls. August contacted David Levy, C.E.O of CRC until 2008. The two met in late 2003 at a CRC conference in Washington, D.C., where August and site coordinator Jim Preus got their training and soon opened up shop. Jim Preus also recruited Ann Morgan and Pauline Lagace from the Unitarian congregation to be co-site coordinators with him.
Levy recalls that period as one of furious growth for CRC. "We opened our first Center in 1999 with major support from Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), who was an advocate for supervised visitation," said Levy. "Soon we had 45." The pace of growth attracted attention and funding along the way from groups ranging from The Annie E. Casey Foundation to the Prince George's County, MD, courts.
"CRC was always pushing for two parent involvement," says Levy of the organization he helped found in 1985. "I had heard of access centers and figured it was right up our alley, a natural. Access centers calm down the situation. It's not the best of all worlds, but both parents are involved. There's supervision."
August came away from the conference inspired by Levy and an active chapter director, Margaret Wuwert of Toledo, Ohio. And he decided to make use of the network in Sante Fe that he and his wife, Diane, were involved in. Max attended the Unitarian Universalist Church, but was already aware of the possibilities of interfaith collaboration because of his involvement with the Jewish organization Tikkun, and his marriage to wife Diane, who is Jewish and a member of Temple Beth Shalom in Sante Fe.
"It was there in the back of my mind," said August. "I thought the two faith communities could be a place to do what we wanted to do. And also to get volunteers!"
So that's just what August did, along with Jim Preus, and Toni and Marty Beldock. "Jim handled the Unitarian Church, Toni and Marty handled the Temple," August said. The congregations quickly recognized that they could help the cause of social justice and strengthen their relationship with one another at the same time. The boards of both UUCSF and TBS have included the Safe Haven program into their Social Justice outreach efforts.
More than six years later, the two centers are still active, with 22 volunteers supervising visitations, almost all of them court-ordered, said August. "We've done over 2000 transfers with only two minor incidents requiring my intervention as the Site Director," he added.
The centers operate on a schedule that makes full use of the weekend, the Access Centers pinch-hitting for each other on the respective Sabbaths.
So how do they handle all those Sabbaths? Carefully.
Temple Beth Shalom supervises transfers on Friday up until 6:16pm at the latest (services start later, at 7:30pm) and also on Sunday. A reform congregation, they still make sure to respect the Friday night start of Shabbat. On Saturday, the Unitarian Universalists Church handles the transfers.
A success story for August, and a curious one, given that as a family therapist in Los Angeles he had dreaded divorce when it came up in his practice. But later, in Sante Fe, he decided to step into the center of divorce disputes as a force for good. He now works in private practice as part of collaborative divorce team, all the while running co-parenting workshops through Children First and, of course, the CRC Safe Haven Access Centers.
When August looks back to 2003, he chalks a lot of interest up to his involvement with Tikkun. "I was actively involved with a Tikkun chapter and I think that greatly influenced my availability to do this as part of the healing of the world. We were so focused on Palestine and Israel. I got really frustrated it was so distant and remote, but meanwhile here too there were casualties on a daily basis, the kids. That opened my heart to this."
To schedule a monitored transfer in Sante Fe, call the Center Coordinator, Toni Beldock, 505-473-7630, ext. 2.
To write Max August about co-parenting workshops, write [email protected].
CRC's list of access centers can be found at: www.crckids.org/access. Think you might want to start a CRC Chapter or a Safe Haven Access Center as a nonprofit 501(c)(3)? Contact C.E.O. Myrna Murdoch at [email protected].