By Joel Hall
Nov. 18-24 is National Family Week, and to celebrate, the Clayton County Marriage and Family Initiative is trying to identify the ten longest-surviving married couples in the county, who will then be honored during the group's Jan. 22 general meeting.
The couples will be presented with awards, and their stories will be recorded for use during International Marriage Week, Feb. 7-14, and National Black Marriage Day on March 30.
"This is a time when families normally gather, anyway, and this is a way to recognize that," said Mimi Holland, board chair for the Clayton County Marriage and Family Initiative. "Children live better when families are strong," she said. "We want to hear what advice they [the married couples] would give to young people starting out."
The Marriage and Family Initiative was started in June 2006 by Dean Haun, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. Last year, he pulled together more than 40 local pastors, who identified the lack of strong marriages as one of the major problems plaguing Clayton County.
In 2000, nearly 49 percent of Clayton residents, who were older than 15, were listed as married, according to statistics gathered by religious leaders. Of that group, however, 12.5 percent later divorced, a rate that was higher than those of Henry County, Fayette County and the state. The rate was 9.9 percent in Henry, 6.8 percent in Fayette and 10.3 percent in Georgia.
In 2005, 49.3 percent of births in Clayton were out-of-wedlock births, compared to 25.9 percent in Henry, 18.6 percent in Fayette, 38.1 percent in Georgia, and 28.6 percent nationally. Holland said that close to 70 percent of the children born in Clayton County are born to unwed mothers.
Child support cases filed against fathers in Clayton have risen more than 90 percent, from 119 in 1995 to 1,412 in 2005. Temporary protective orders against abusive spouses rose more than 40 percent, from 687 in 2002 to 1,225 in 2005.
"It seems, today, that many couples call it quits when their marriage comes up on hard times," Holland said. "Just by living, we are going to have hard times, but how do you stay married during those times? How do you live above them?"
Holland believes Clayton County would be able to learn from the wisdom of couples who have stayed together for fifty years or more.
To see if you qualify as one of the Marriage and Family Initiative's ten oldest couples, send a postcard with your name, address, telephone number, and number of years married, to: Clayton County Family and Marriage Initiative, PO Box 2506, Jonesboro, Ga., 30237.