Fathers’ Days in United Methodist Community Centers
Being a father is not easy. That’s why many of the more than 100 mission and community centers related to the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church offer programs to help fathers become better parents.
The following stories come from individuals who are a part of the caring connection of staff and participants who work in mission institutions around the United States with families, including fathers.
I first learned of Atlantic Street Center in 1998 when I became involved in a custody dispute concerning my daughter LaToya, who was then seven years old. I was living in Holly Park (now known as NewHolly) and having great difficulty navigating the state systems. I was very angry and frustrated and I needed someone to talk to, but I didn’t know where to turn.
I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t run into Sue Siegenthaler, manager of Atlantic Street Center’s Family Center. Sue and the rest of the staff at Atlantic Street Center stepped in and gave me the support I needed at a critical time in my life.
I enrolled in parenting classes and joined a fathers’ support group. The Atlantic Street Center staff took the time to help me find my way through the system, and gave me hope that everything would work out for the best.
But most importantly, my involvement with Atlantic Street Center opened up broader opportunities for my daughter. LaToya enrolled in counseling and became involved with the Youth Development Program. She went on field trips and educational outings, and when she was a little older she joined the youth leadership group—Team ALIVE.
Atlantic Street Center gave us a community, and gave me, a single father, the help and encouragement I needed to raise my daughter in an environment that is not always supportive of fathers raising their children alone.
I am happy to report that I was awarded full custody of my daughter. Today, LaToya is in high school and is an honor student and all-around athlete.
But perhaps what is most remarkable is that, all these years later, LaToya and I are still closely involved with Atlantic Street Center. We stay connected to the staff, and we volunteer our time however and whenever we can.
A client in our program, who will be identified as Robert F. to maintain his confidentiality, came to the P.A.S.S. (Providing a Sure Start) Male Involvement Program in February 2007.
Robert F. lost custody of his two-year-old daughter, Angel, due to circumstances beyond his control. In essence, the child’s mother abandoned the child during their separation. The child was turned over the local state agency.
Unfortunately, the system, for the most part, is not male-friendly or, should we say, designed with the male/father in mind in most cases. There is a preconceived idea by society as a whole that because of a few dead-beat dads, most fathers don’t take responsibility for their children, especially in blighted communities like East St. Louis.
The various agencies and courts involved with this particular case gave Robert F. an extensive service plan. This would not be so unique in itself, except for the fact that the client had just entered into an internship program with a potentially rewarding career. The schedule for training and job preparation, the long-distance travel from home and the job site and schooling would be challenging for anyone. Add to that, the various court dates and setbacks, and the loss of regular visits with his child. All this could have discouraged him and caused him to give up. But he didn’t, he wouldn’t. Robert F.’s love for his daughter would not allow him to surrender to the challenges.
Robert F. met every obligation, often with personal sacrifices in spite of many disappointments. We encouraged him to stay focused and follow through with his obligations. One of his greatest challenges was traveling at night in unsafe areas to receive some of the services required in the service plan he was mandated to complete.
A story such as this is rewarding, uplifting, encouraging, and fulfilling. The Male Involvement Program is designed to assist the male parents or significant male figures with the resources and training that help to make them responsible, and to better equip them for their roles in their children’s lives.
Periodically, we are rewarded for our efforts to make a difference in someone’s life. Circumstances, events, or a crisis provide us with many opportunities to witness to the hope God desires for young fathers. We are rewarded, not by monetary means, but by the joy and satisfaction of helping fathers in their time of need and by witnessing as they move toward a goal or desired event. Such was the case with Robert F.
Kelvin McNeil is employed with the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House with P.A.S.S. as a Male Involvement Specialist. With the Rev. Bradley Watkins, II, they coordinate and provide services geared specifically to the males who have a children under the age of three.
March 31st was Family Fun Day at Red Bird Mission School. We showed a parenting DVD and distributed free booster seats. There was a short pinewood derby race for fathers and children to race little cars. Every participant received a prize and each father received a flier with suggestions on spending time with your children. We tried to go over the different suggestions listed on the flier to see what the father might try to do at home.
During the day there were many events in which fathers were able to participate with their children. Fathers encouraged their children in the Fun Run. Every child that participated received a T-shirt. Fathers and children worked together to catch a greased pig. And all were invited to join in the hayride, where a father actually played the banjo while the tractor pulled them around the field.
Fathers were able to gain new ideas about how they can spend time with their children. We have had to work very hard to get fathers to participate in events. The men that attended spent time together as well as with their children.
Stacia Carwell is a Global Ministries Missionary, serving with Red Bird Mission in the Red Bird Conference. You may learn more from Stacia's missionary biography.
Our first get-together for Early Steps for School Success, where parents are compelled to attend, went well. But I noticed that two of our dads had brought their girlfriends, who waited for the men in their cars.
The next month as we were getting ready to start, I looked out, and again, the women were sitting in their cars. So I walked out and invited them to attend the workshop. They looked at me and asked whether I was sure that they could come in. I said I would be glad to have them and that we would even feed them.
I’ve since learned that both of these dads’ girlfriends have a child that does not belong to these fathers but that the fathers, accept each of these children as their own. The girlfriends each have a child by these dads also.
The economic conditions of these families are very poor. But they stay together through these conditions with love, care, and support for their families. At our next workshop, the parents and girlfriends attended. We offered the CPR class and both fathers asked insightful questions that would help them if their children needed them. Their interest was with their children. They both said that they were looking forward to coming back again. I told them that we appreciate them being part of the new program that we are doing now.
Both families are on our MIHOW program (Maternal Infant Health Outreach Worker) and as I home visit I can see a great love and deep bond that these fathers have with their children and stepchildren. Both families welcome me in their home and I always tell them that through the Henderson Settlement Ministry, we will lend a helping hand to them when they need us.
Many fathers make a positive difference in their communities. And many community centers make a positive difference in the lives of fathers and families. To learn more about the work of community centers and other national mission institutions: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/work/communities/nmi/
Date posted: Jun 15, 2007