TARPON SPRINGS — Once a week, Mike Barnes and his 15-year-old son gather at the family's dining room table for free counseling.
The boy had rebelled since his parents' recent separation. Barnes reacted with anger and his son withdrew.
Enter therapist Rachel Freeman of Suncoast Center Inc., a social services group. She coaches Barnes and his son on how to discuss conflicts — how to communicate with kindness rather than anger.
Since therapy began in January, Barnes said, he has grown closer to his son.
"I'm kind of an old-fashioned guy, and I tried to apply the same way of raising I had. It doesn't seem to work in this day and age," said Barnes, a Tarpon Springs resident. "We both knew there was a problem, but how to improve it we had no idea."
Struggling parents, tune in.
Similar assistance is available at Tarpon Springs' new Suncoast Center, which can help families deal with a variety of struggles, from mental health and substance abuse to child abuse and trauma.
The center, which gets funding from the Pinellas County Juvenile Welfare Board and private donations, was able to move to Tarpon Springs because of space donated by the Tarpon Springs Housing Authority.
The new office, which is actually a refurbished apartment, is at 545 E Harrison St.
The space, with bright green walls and a staff of seven smiley counselors, seems ideal for an organization that specializes in helping families.
It is adjacent to the building that houses Cops 'n Kids, another Housing Authority partnership that provides after-school and summer programs for low-income children.
Nearby, toddlers tricycle on the sidewalk and school-aged children shoot hoops.
"People can walk here," said Housing Authority director Pat Weber, at the Suncoast Center's open house Wednesday. "They're using the space, but they're also giving back to the community."
The Suncoast Center has served about 27,000 people in Pinellas County, but previously operated mainly out of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Pinellas Park.
Each client is enrolled in a customized, goal-oriented plan, which could include counseling, group activities or mentoring, said Suncoast program director Kerri Pederson. Services usually continue for several months.
She hopes the organization can expand its presence in Tarpon Springs, which she said is often overlooked since it's at the north end of the county.
"We want people to come in and use our services so they can, in turn, spread the word," she said.
Contact Brittany Alana Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-323-0353.