This article by Leslie Mayes appeared in NBC Connecticut on April 26, 2023.
There is a Frederick Douglass quote that says, “It is easier to build strong children that repair broken men.”
Here in Connecticut, at The Village for Families and Children, there’s a program dedicated to working with fathers to help them raise strong children that will be the future of our state.
The Village has operated its Fatherhood Engagement Services since 2019. More than 200 men have completed the program, which is meant to teach positive parenting to fathers.
Participants are generally referred to the program by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Some families have DCF cases or their children are in the custody of the agency.
That was the case for Father Norman Sparrow, who learned he was a father at age 52. His family was referred to DCF at his son’s birth, but Sparrow says he was committed to doing whatever was necessary to make his family whole and be a present father to his new baby.
“What do I got to do to get my son back? So I jumped through every hoop that they wanted me to do. They tried to keep me down. They wanted to take my son. It wasn’t happening. I made sure that he was coming home with me,” he said in an interview, while tending to his rambunctious now 2 year-old Alex.
Sparrow credits his success as a father to what he’s learned working with the men in The Village’s program.
“Having that boy in my life made me the best man I could ever be, the best father I can ever be, the best mentor I can ever be,” Sparrow said.
Fathers in the program meet regularly in group sessions and talk about parenting skills, their own family history and more under the 24/7 Dad Curriculum. Fathers receive job referrals and regular contact with the program’s leaders with an emphasis on helping them take their rightful places with their families.
Don Crocker is the program’s supervisor.
“This is our opportunity to, to come back and our communities, you know. Strong fathers make strong families, strong families make strong fathers and stronger fathers make a strong community.”
Specialist Jakeem Mims says they work with fathers to shift their mindset to believe that they have what it takes to be present, great parents.
“The world needs us, they need men, you know, and before men were defined for other reasons, defined manhood being a father with your own terms, you know, with your experiences. We want to change the world and we believe we’re doing that one father at a time,” said Mims.
Father of five Devon Kempson joined the fatherhood program as a returning citizen after being incarcerated. Coming home, he had a commitment to raising his children and being the kind of father he didn’t have.
“I just knew I wanted to be a better citizen and a productive member of society. And I knew that started with fatherhood,” said Kempton.
Now with custody of his 12 year-old son, he sees his presence as a father as a way to break negative generational cycles. He wasn’t raised by his father, but now his children will know something better.
“To be able to be a father to my son and come back and get custody of him and purchase a house for him to live in and stuff like that is just as remarkable for me, because we’re told that this doesn’t happen,” Kempton said.
For the program’s fathers, there are many societal labels they’re working to defeat each day. But the label they all wear happily is that of “Dad.”
You can contact Fatherhood Engagement Services at the Village by clicking here.