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A Tribute to Gregg Nicklas

Posted by Greg Austen

In my ten years at NFI, I have never known a more humble, action-oriented, and courageous champion of fatherhood. Aside from Gregg being a man of faith, a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and care-giver, many things could be said to honor his memory. I want to highlight only one here—his diligent stewardship of opportunities.   

GreggNicklasThursday night, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m., Gregg Nicklas, Executive Director of Christian Heritage—a highly respected foster home with a thirty-plus year history in Lincoln, NEwas struck by a car while walking his dog. The driver fled and Gregg was pronounced dead on the scene. We are left heartbroken by this tragedy along with Gregg’s entire family, community, and friends.

In 2007 Gregg, identifying incarceration and father absence as root causes, sensed the need for a fatherhood program. His first activity, with staff, was to launch a Father of the Year award. It was at this time that he learned of the National Fatherhood Initiative, submitted a proposal for a capacity-building grant, and became one of the awardees. This capacity-building grant helped Christian Heritage define their vision and be encouraged by meeting others from around the country who shared a similar passion.

Returning to Nebraska, they began to implement their vision and in October of 2008 sponsored a Leadership Summit on Fatherhood, bringing 56 community leaders together. At this Summit, Larry Wayne, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services’ (NDCS) Deputy Director of Programs and Community Services, requested the implementation of a parenting program at Nebraska’s correctional facilities for men. Gregg moved on this request and, in February 2009, leveraged another opportunity—bringing NFI staff (where I first met Gregg) to Nebraska to train facilitator’s on the evidence-based InsideOut Dad®. This program became the entry point for a new initiative launched by Christian Heritage called Destination…Dad™. 

This is one of the most holistic interventions I have seen nationally and includes the following:

  • Daddy Day Visits—once a month, children spend two hours with their incarcerated dads, who report that “this is the most like being at home.” One mom said, "two hours once a month may not sound like much, but it has changed my son’s life.”
  • DVD’s from Dad—Fathers read books to their children while being video-taped. The books and DVD’s are sent to the children’s caregivers. Children are reported not to want to go to bed or leave for school until their dads have read to them.
  • Peer mentoring/Alumni Program—These are monthly meetings to review curricula and participate in conversations related to being a responsible father.
  • Reentry Family Action Plans—Reentry planning with family members prior to release.
  • Extended Phone Time—Additional 15-minute phone call each day for qualified dads to talk with their children and caregivers. 
  • Parent/Teacher Conferences via Skype—Studies reveal that children do better in school when their dads are involved.

Gregg’s leadership and diligence led to solid outcomes in just five short years: 

  • 930 dads, who have 2,102 children, have participated as of April 2014
  • 486 of these men have been released. Only 68 inmates have been out long enough to be calculated into a three-year recidivism rate. Nevertheless, the recidivism rate for the program participants is 13.2% to date!
  • NDCS projects Destination…Dad™’s long term recidivism rate at 15 percent. Inmate population has been reduced by 40 dads, saving the state $1 million (annual cost per inmate: $28,773).
  • In December 2013 they secured funding through passage of Legislative Bill 483 for the next two years.

I once asked Gregg in an interview what final thoughts he would share with the national fatherhood field and he said, “Encourage your participants to be ‘bold and courageous.’”  

Gregg, we are saddened by your loss but will do our best. Thank you for the great legacy you left us. Be assured, your example will help us make the most of every opportunity and diligently steward all we have been entrusted with.

Visit Christian Heritage for more details.

Topics: corrections, military children, community-based, fatherhood program tips, fatherhood in the news, program success tips

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