I recently received an email from a “Father Champion” in his community who shared, “When I was young, my father wasn’t there for me, and I vowed to be a better man when it was my turn. Now I’m a father, and my family is my life. I’m determined to coach other men starting in my son’s school. I want to take it to the next level, and I don’t know where to start.”
Does this sound familiar? It sure does.
In 2012 I established a community-based non-profit called The Dennis Project. It is a celebration of my family’s legacy of dedicated teachers and community advocates. For over eleven years, we’ve inspired thousands of underserved youths and their families through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) outreach programs, teen development summits, and family-strengthening workshops. During our early years, my husband (a single-dad at the time) was concerned about dads’ lack of services, and he wanted to establish a “Father’s Club.” I thought it was a wonderful idea and fit perfectly into our family strengthening goals.
When we decided to serve dads in our South Florida community, we had an overabundance of passion. The statistics on fatherlessness and the testimonies of dads who felt replaceable were alarming. We wanted to save the world, one family at a time.
Our journey began with serving dads closest to us—friends, family, and associates. Every other Saturday, the children accompanied their dads on trips to a local museum, park, or movie. After three months, we noticed our numbers dwindle, and we were stumped. We were having so much fun, so why were the dads dropping out? After talking with the dads, we discovered the group activities were things dads felt they could do on their own time. We needed to reevaluate the value of our Father’s Club.
After reflection and discussion, we realized that we needed structure to match our passion.
We searched the internet for similar fathering programs and found little to none in our big city. But we didn’t give up and finally stumbled onto National Fatherhood Initiative®s (NFI’s) website. We discovered the Fatherhood Program Locator™ that revealed local and countrywide programs successfully serving dads. We found research and other resources to get us started. One of the most useful was the Father Friendly Check-Up™. The assessment provided a clearer view of our current effectiveness and the potential to be better. Also, the free resource guides helped us shape a comprehensive plan that brought more value to our program and the dads. Later, we implemented NFI’s 24:7 Dad® program; attended much-needed program training; earned the Father Engagement and Effective Facilitation certifications; and introduced Fathering in 15™ to our program.
Fast-forward 10 years later. The newly named Fathers Stepping Up Fatherhood Program has served over 1,000 families directly and through partnerships using the evidence-based 24:7 Dad® program. Along with our group meetings, we partner with alternative high schools to serve teen dads, partner with apprenticeships to serve dads recently released from incarceration, partner with colleges to serve young dads on pathways to earning higher wages, and partner with housing authorities to provide family strengthening programs for low-income dads.
My biggest take-away from starting the fatherhood program is: passion is only the beginning of a successful fathering program. When you add more structure through assessment, training, and programming, you will gain so much more. Dads quickly recognize the value of the program and the importance of becoming an involved, responsible, and committed dad.
How can you add structure to your passion for serving dads?
Which of the tools and resources mentioned in this article would be most helpful in adding structure to your work serving dads?