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 Feel the joy of healthy relationships.

Find relationship resources for teens, couples, parents, co-workers & all combinations.

Who We Are

First Things First (FTF) is a non-profit organization that provides healthy relationship skills through classes, events and multimedia outlets. 

We aim to be a community resource for the Chattanooga area and beyond by providing the most up-to-date research, content and educational experiences to all.

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Classes & Events

First Things First holds a number of events and classes throughout the year on topics ranging from dating to marriage to co-workers and everything in-between. Check back frequently for newly added classes and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Stories

Providing real tools for real relationships means we hear a ton of really amazing stories. Here are a few people who chose to connect with First Things First and feel the joy of healthy relationships.

  • Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    - Justin Washington, Work Smart, Live Well and OH Baby! Participant

    "I am a HUGE fan of First Things First because when I first moved to Chattanooga in 2014, I had a lot of struggles, but First Things First helped me get on the right track. I attended a Work Smart, Live Well workshop and learned a lot of skills that helped me have confidence and better communication on the job.

    I also gained a deeper knowledge of how your personal life can affect your work life and vice versa. If you’re in toxic relationships with friends or loved ones, they can take a toll on your overall mood, attitude and focus which will inevitably interfere with your motivation and performance on the job.

    Also, when my wife and I found out we were pregnant a few months ago, we realized we needed to work out a few things to keep our marriage prioritized and our careers focused in order to bring our baby into a healthy, thriving home. We went to the First Things First website and signed up for OH, Baby! It was a great date night for us and it was great insight for what to expect when we bring home our first child.

    First Things First gives the community hope. When someone wants to make a change in their life, but they don’t know what they don’t know, First Things First is there to help."

  • Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    - Tiffany Cantrell, Teacher at Ridgeland High School

    "I have been an educator at Ridgeland High School for two years and in that short time I have seen tremendous, positive changes in my students as a result of their participation in the First Things First’s healthy relationship skills classes.

    The students of Ridgeland are exposed to a number of wonderful programs in our community but none of those programs reaches our students the way First Things First does.

    My students get so much more out of the classes than healthy relationship skills and helpful tips for being successful after high school. They learn about themselves and gain an appreciation for the unique characteristics that make them who they are. I have seen a huge boost in their confidence and self-esteem, which is evident in both their school and personal lives.

    First Things First has not only helped to foster relationships among classmates, it has brought me closer to my students. I have had special opportunities to get to know each of them on a more personal level which has helped me to more effectively teach them. First Things First has made a huge impact on Ridgeland and the students, and I look forward to their visits each year. I hope that they can continue to develop and offer these beneficial classes for teens for many years to come."

  • Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    - Felicia and Eundra Porter, Maximize Your Marriage Participants

    "My husband and I were having major problems. Our marriage was in crisis. I saw an advertisement for a First Things First class on a bus, so I encouraged him to call and see what we could do.

    We went to Maximize Your Marriage, and it was eye-opening to me. Or really, for both of us. There were some things in my mind that I thought were happening in our marriage, but after attending that class I realized our problems were all about a lack of communication. Until that point, I didn’t know if I was really going to stay or walk away.

    Without First Things First, I believe, we honestly would not be married today. Or, at the very least, not as happily married."

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First Things First Presents a Short Film About the Importance of Family

Latest Posts

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    How to Select a Marriage Counselor

    It was an all-too-familiar conversation. Jody went to see a marriage counselor hoping to receive guidance for getting her marriage back on track.

    “After seeing the counselor twice, he told us, ‘You have three choices. You can separate for a period of time, file for divorce or keep on working,’” says Jody. “We were looking for someone to work with us on a specific plan for our marriage. Instead, we got a totally neutral counselor who didn’t seem to care whether or not our marriage survived. We weren’t neutral about wanting to save our marriage. He was."

    According to Dr. Willard Harley, psychologist and author of numerous books including the internationally best-selling book, His Needs, Her Needs, this is not unusual.

    During one woman’s first visit with a therapist, she specifically said that divorce was not an option. However, at the end of the 50 minute-session, the therapist told her he thought she really should consider divorce. There was no violence in the marriage - simply love gone cold.

    “People who seek help from marriage counselors usually assume that the goal of therapy is saving the marriage,” says Harley. "Unfortunately, most marital therapists are specifically trained to be nondirective or neutral. They see themselves as someone couples can talk to, but not someone who will coach them into changes that will ultimately save their marriage.

    “How can a plan possibly achieve its goal when there is no goal?” Harley asks. “It’s no wonder that most marriage counseling is so ineffective.”

    This does not mean that couples should not seek help. In fact, Harley encourages troubled couples to find a marriage counselor to help save their marriage.

    “Couples need to understand that there are times when even the strongest of marriages needs additional support and motivation. Frequently, only a professional marriage counselor or marriage educator can provide that,” Harley says. “An effective marriage counselor or educator will help you avoid or overcome intense emotional trauma associated with a failing marriage, create a plan that will help your marriage, and motivate you to complete that plan.”

    Whether your marriage is in significant distress or just in a tough spot, Harley’s tips can help you pick an effective marriage counselor.

    • Before setting up the first appointment, ask certain questions to make sure the counselor will help you accomplish your goals of making the marriage mutually fulfilling.

    • Ask to schedule a 10-15 minute phone interview. If the counselor is not willing to have an initial phone conversation, eliminate that counselor from consideration.

    • During the interview, ask about the following:

    What is your goal for our marriage? (Answer: To help you both achieve marital fulfillment, and save your marriage).

    What are your credentials and years of experience in marriage counseling? (Answer: a graduate degree in mental health (Master’s or Doctorate in Psychology or Social Work, with clinical supervision in marriage counseling).

    This is our problem (briefly explain). Do you have experience helping couples overcome that problem, and what is your success rate? (Answer: Experience helping couples overcome that particular problem with more than 75% success).

    • After both spouses have a chance to speak to a few potential counselors, Harley suggests choosing the one that answers those questions appropriately. Then set up your first appointment.

    Jody and her husband ultimately decided to divorce. Looking back at the whole scenario, they question if divorce should have even been an option. At the time, they both felt hopeless about their marriage. Without a recovery plan, divorce seemed to be the only answer for them.

    If the counselor had given them a plan to save their marriage, they might be happily married today. They will always wonder if a more encouraging counselor would have helped change the course of their family's life.

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    Where Does the Money Go?

    Do you ever wonder at the end of the month where in the world your hard-earned money went? It’s like money is falling out of a hole in your wallet!

    Consider this: if you buy a cup of coffee for $1.96, one chicken biscuit for $1.99, and a $3 magazine, you’ve spent almost $10 at the drop of a hat.

    “Little expenses really add up,” says Laura Coleman, personal financial educator with LFE Institute. “Most people don’t think about where their money is going. They make money and spend it, but they don’t have a system for managing it.”

    Coleman worked with one couple living paycheck to paycheck. With five children and a sixth on the way, the couple’s goal was to live on one paycheck so she could be a stay-at-home mom. When Coleman started working with them, they had basically decided they had to have a second income.

    “Money was causing a lot of conflicts and they had no idea what was happening with their finances,” Coleman shares. “They moved to a smaller home, lowering their monthly payment and got rid of a vehicle, but still needed two incomes. I worked with them to open communication and develop an overall strategy to find extra money and plug leaks. Within a short amount of time, we found $1,600. They were shocked.”

    Coleman contends that two of the biggest issues for couples concerning money are different spending styles and lack of open communication. When people don’t have control over their money and have no idea where it is going, they buy things they can’t afford, use their credit cards as part of their income, and there’s never anything left to save for the future.

    “I have been helping people with their finances for many years, starting out as a mortgage originator,” Coleman says. “Our clients were buried in debt and struggling to pay their bills. What they needed was education and the skills to manage the money they had, not another loan. I wanted to provide solutions, not create more problems.”

    As a financial coach, Coleman helps people develop a plan for managing their money. One of the first steps is to understand that spending is often a choice and as consumers we only have one chance to spend that dollar. LFE’s “$1,000 Card” helps people ask the right questions to make smart choices and save money.

    • Did I plan to buy this?

    • If I have to pay cash do I still want it?

    • What will happen if I don’t buy this?

    • Do I need this or just want it?

    The next step is to discuss financial goals.

    “When people tell me they want to be financially successful I ask them to define success,” Coleman says. “One person might consider success being able to pay down their mortgage while their spouse defines success as having money in the bank. We work together to establish goals the whole family can get excited about.”

    But there's more! Once couples have common goals, Coleman teaches them strategies to stretch their paychecks, reduce debt, avoid financial traps and ease family conflicts over money. “Financial freedom comes from taking control of your finances,” Coleman asserts.

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    5 Parenting Tips for Media Use in Your Home

    At the beginning of middle school, Melanie Hempe’s oldest son, Adam, started trading his outdoor time for playing video games inside and she became a Game-Cop Mom. Since Adam was a straight-A student, Hempe let his bad habit slide. 

    “But his ninth grade school laptop proved to be too much to manage,” says Hempe, mom of four. “When he graduated from high school I thought he would outgrow his gaming. I did not realize that little kid hobbies become big kid hobbies.”

    At the end of his freshman year, Adam dropped out of college due to his gaming. On the trip home, he said, “Mom, ‘World of Warcraft’ did something to me. I’ve been in bed for the last week, depressed.” Knowing that she did not want to have a gamer in her house for the next five years, she asked an Army recruiter to visit. Adam joined the U.S. Army where he could learn to shoot real guns instead of virtual ones.

    Her son’s experience set Hempe on a quest to understand gaming and screen addictions.

    “As a nurse, I felt like there had to be a scientific explanation for what happened to my son,” Hempe recalls. “I learned that gaming addiction is the number one reason boys drop out of college their freshman year.” 

    Like gambling, this addiction can be hard to spot. “After a great deal of research, I decided to present my findings to parents at our school. I was shocked when over 100 parents showed up to that first meeting.” Families Managing Media was founded as an effort to help families prevent childhood screen addictions.

    Think about your child’s relationship with their screen:

    • Is it the only thing that puts them in a good mood?

    • Are they unhappy when you take it away?

    • Is their usage increasing over time?

    • Do they sneak around hiding screens?

    • Do you know what they are doing on their screens; do you have all their passwords?

    • Does their screen time interfere with family time and their in-person friendships?

    If you answered yes to most of these, your child may be headed for trouble.  

    Hempe believes parents need to know at least four things about brain development to help with screen management. 

    For starters, the prefrontal cortex (the reasoning center) is the last part of the brain to mature and it is impossible to accelerate this maturity. Even the most intelligent child can have issues managing time or paying attention. 

    “Because Adam was smart, I expected him to be able to control his screen use,” Hempe says. “I now understand that this is a task kids are unable to do. Children are not little adults.”

    Second, it’s helpful to know that your child’s brain development is based on the activities they are doing. Like dirt roads being paved, neuronal connections get stronger with use. The connections not being used get pruned away at puberty.  

    “Practice typically makes things better, but unfortunately, with things like social media, practice makes it worse,” Hempe shares. “The longer a child is exposed to one type of experience, the harder it is to reverse that effect.” 

    Video games and smartphones stimulate one area of the brain: the pleasure center.

    Unfortunately, if the whole brain is not stimulated early, it’s a complicated fix in adulthood.  

    Thirdly, screen time is not a neutral activity. Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. When kids are on their screens, they get an instant dopamine rush from likes on social media, gaming, etc. The “dopamine feedback loop” is activated and a craving sets in. The bad news is that, school and other “less-exciting” things can’t compete with the novelty offered by screens 24/7.

    Fourth, screens replace many activities that are foundational to healthy brain development. Handwriting, real play and playing music are very important for a young brain. 

    “Movement is absent when your child is on a screen,” Hempe says. “Without enough movement, children have a hard time maintaining focus and dealing with distractions. Even 30 minutes a day makes a huge difference.” 

    Reading is the first activity to go when screens are present, and it is the number one predictor of academic success. Sleep is another critical piece. Screen habits make it hard for teens to get the required 9.25 hours of sleep each night.

    With this in mind, Hempe encourages parents to do the following:

    • Delay access to smartphones and video games. This allows more time for a child to mature so that he or she can use technology wisely. “No” for now doesn’t mean “no” forever. Social media and today’s video games are very addictive.

    • Follow your family’s accounts and co-view their screen activities. Nothing is private in the digital world, so your child/teen’s digital activity should not be private to you. Know exactly what they are doing on their screens.

    • Foster face-to-face social interactions. Social media is not designed for kids. Try a family social media account managed by you on a home laptop in plain view. They do not need six years of social media “training” to learn how to use it, but they do need face-to-face interactions with friends to learn critical social skills.

    • Spend more non-tech time together. Teens with strong family attachments show more overall happiness and success.

    • Help your kids choose and plan healthier forms of entertainment - they need your help. Don’t give the smartphone and video games all the power in your home.

    “Our teens need us now more than ever,” Hempe asserts. “It is easy to detach from them when they are on their screens. They want you to help them say no to screen overuse. After all, the only thing they really want more than their virtual world is more real time with you.”

    For more information on screen addiction, reclaiming your kids and reconnecting your family, visit Families Managing Media.