In 1981 the State Department of Children and Family Services allocated monies through their Parent Initiative program to the local DCFS office to replicate the Minnesota Early Design’s “MELD New Parent Program” within the Rockford area. An independent contractor was hired and Minnesota was contracted for training and implementation. An Advisory Board composed of community leaders was developed and a community needs assessment completed. Volunteer couples were recruited as group facilitators and the original groups were marketed through Rock Valley College’s Community Education Program. From the start these groups were well received and well attended. The local agency – Rockford MELD was Mothers Establishing Life’s Direction.
Community social service agencies and health providers appreciated the services to the new parent couple population but were requesting similar services for the adolescent parenting population. Simultaneously, Minnesota had developed the “MELD Young Moms” curriculum which was ready for dissemination and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had funding available. Since we were not yet a 501c3 not for profit agency the grant was written with Rock Valley College as the administering agent. In 1983 funding was awarded and the first MELD Young Moms groups were initiated.
In 1985 the Rockford MELD Advisory Board determined that our programs were viable and an asset to the community. By-laws were developed, a Board of Directors was established and the agency incorporated as a 501c3 not for profit organization.
Through a sub contract from the Winnebago County Health Department in 2000 MELD Young Dads groups were begun. MELD groups became the back bone of the agency and continue to this day. At this time when we add Dads programing to MELD the acronym now stands for Mothers and Fathers Establishing Life’s Direction.
Although the Young Parents Support Groups were very successful, the agency and the community was faced with problem of young mothers and their children who were homeless as a result of attempting to live unsuccessfully on their own or being evicted by their families. To address this issue, Trinity House Incorporated, a not for profit from Trinity Lutheran Church, the City of Rockford and Junior League rehabilitated a ten unit apartment building at 620 Kishwaukee Street for use as an emergency shelter. In 1989, Youth Services Network awarded Rockford MELD funding to operate an emergency homeless shelter to house young mothers 17-21 years of age and their children. From the day that the shelter opened the facility has been a safe haven for young families.
The shelter is licensed by the Department of Children and Family Services and is required to be staffed 24 hours a day seven days a week by MELD shelter staff who are responsible for meeting the day to day needs of the residents.
The MELD Case Coordinator is responsible for case management including completing a thorough assessment on all participants upon their entrance into the shelter. During the intake process the young family’s needs are determined, goals are established and a service plan is developed. The residents are linked to appropriate community services and bi-weekly staffings with Youth Services Network are held to determine the progress toward the young mother’s goals.
A variety of services are available at the shelter or through agreements with community agencies. The MELD Educational and Vocational Coordinators through MELD’s Educatins and Employment Assistance program assess the educational and employment needs of the residents. GED tutoring and employment workshops are offered at the facility and assistance is provided in accessing GED testing and employment opportunities. The residents also attend weekly child development and parent-child interaction groups. Life skills groups, including topics such as conflict resolution, time management, and budgeting are offered on a weekly basis. Career planning and guidance, job skills training and employment opportunities and job placement are part of the program.
The emergency shelter prompted the need for long term housing and education for the homeless young families. In 1990, through a grant from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) the MELD Transitional Living Program was established with nine independent apartments. The program was expanded in 1995 with 12 additional apartments and again in 2002 to address the demand for services.
In 1998 Rockford MELD was awarded United Way status supporting the MELD Parenting Groups. In 2003 MELD was awarded the Excelsior Award, the highest prestigious award that can be given to an agency for outstanding programs and services in the Rockford community.
Rockford MELD has grown from a small organization to an increasingly large and important component of the non-profit social service community in Rockford. The community depends upon MELD to provide comprehensive services to young families.
In 2011 Rockford MELD was awarded a grant from the City of Rockford to prevent homelessness – The MELD Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program focusing on housing stabilization with assessment, case management and community linkages and referrals to community services.
In 2011 a comprehensive strategic plan was put in place by the board and staff. As part of the plan MELD revised its mission statement to reflect the most important goals inclusive of both young moms, young dads and their children MELD’s mission is “guiding young parents to build a strong family and lead a responsible life by providing shelter, education and life skills training.”