The Doe Fund turns fathers into dads. We hear this phrase so often that it has become a cornerstone of the Ready, Willing & Able model. The program that works the hardest to make that statement true is our Fatherhood Initiative, which is run by Brooke Lombardo, The Doe Fund’s Parenting Resource & Child Support Coordinator.
In July of 2011, Brooke piloted the first Fatherhood Initiative program at Ready Willing & Able – Gates. In the summer of 2012, classes at The Harlem Center for Opportunity and the Peter J. Sharp Center for Opportunity, in Brooklyn, replaced the single Gates cohort, running the program in eight-week cycles. The classes, which are highly attended by the ‘men in blue’, cover topics such as communication, discipline, and fathers’ rights. “I want people to leave the group with a sense of empowerment,” says Brooke.
The curriculum does not try to solve every problem; it gives its participants skills to put in their toolbox. If a father can walk away having learned a better way of communicating with his child’s mother, or a better understanding of corrective behaviors, then the class was successful. It serves as a stepping stone for fathers toward a better relationship with their children, and their families. A common fear among the men is that the facilitator will tell them how to parent, but Brooke assures that the real goal is for the men to connect with each other, learn from each other, and share stories of their experiences as fathers and sons. The class has proven to be an effective forum for the free exchange of ideas between fathers of varying backgrounds who share a common experience — being separated from their children because of whatever circumstances brought them here, and trying to parent when you are elsewhere.
The Fatherhood Initiative’s program is more than 16 hours of class time. Through the program, The Doe Fund has worked with the men to successfully coordinate the payment of more than $45,000 toward child support by trainees while in the program, and more than $400,500 by those discharged since 2009. It also assists trainees and grads in navigating the family court system through payment modifications, custody hearings, and child visitation decisions.
Whether the turning point is a lesson learned, a connection made, or responsibility taken, one thing is for certain: Forever Fathers is a program that mentally, emotionally, and financially helps fathers transition into dads.