Whatcom Magazine

Brigid Collins marks 25th year of helping families

Angeles Carmona and her daughter Ashley limbo together during the “Family Activity Night” June 18, 2015, at Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham. The quarterly event is designed to bring families together, says Ramona Slagle, a case manager at the center.
Angeles Carmona and her daughter Ashley limbo together during the “Family Activity Night” June 18, 2015, at Brigid Collins Family Support Center in Bellingham. The quarterly event is designed to bring families together, says Ramona Slagle, a case manager at the center. The Bellingham Herald

This year, Brigid Collins Family Support Center celebrates 25 years of strengthening families, helping children heal from the trauma of abuse, and educating the community about keeping children safe.

The nonprofit center is named after Sister Brigid Collins, an administrator at St. Joseph Hospital who was an advocate for services supporting women and children. She died in 1990.

Since 1990, the center has served more than 30,000 children and families. During that time, the number of calls to Child Protective Services about childhood sexual abuse in Whatcom County has fallen 53 percent, paralleling a national trend.

“We’re building strong families; we’re ending abuse,” says Byron Manering, the center’s director for more than two decades.

Manering says the 30 staff members find and develop evidence-based best practices for all of the center’s programs. The center originally focused on helping children heal from sexual abuse. That core mission remains, but the center also provides therapy, and coordinates with law enforcement, medical personnel and social workers to offer child-centered care.

Brigid Collins has also expanded its offerings, holding classes, support groups and individual coaching for a range of parenting groups. More than 40 volunteers help offer the breadth of services.

Activities include bilingual support for Hispanic families, assistance for new moms working to stay drug-free, and meetings for dads seeking to learn parenting skills and redefine fatherhood.

“We’re going to be constantly changing if we’re going to be effective,” Manering says.

For example, he traveled to Asia last year and discovered that nonprofits serving vulnerable children often incorporated arts into their programs. He has now begun an initiative to fund the Brigid Collins Arts and Healing Project, and the center has been doing exploratory activities with music and art.

More plans are in the works. The agency has expanded into Skagit County and is stepping up community education programs and public policy advocacy.

“We really do believe we can end childhood sexual abuse,” Manering says.

Brigid Collins Family Support Center

Address: 1231 N. Garden St., No. 200, Bellingham.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Contact: 360-734-4616, contact@brigidcollins.org.

Online: brigidcollins.org.

Stewards of Children

Founded in 2000, Darkness to Light is a national nonprofit organization that empower people to prevent child sexual abuse. Through its Stewards of Children program, nearly 1 million adults have been trained to recognize, prevent and react responsibly to such abuse.

In Whatcom County, Brigid Collins Family Support Center has trained nearly 5,000 people through the Stewards of Children programs. Training is held monthly at the center, and upon request for groups. Training takes two hours and costs $10 for materials. For details, contact Brigid Collins.

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