NORFOLK — Fatherhood is challenging, and it’s even more difficult when a man has spent time behind bars.
The Up Center is looking to ease that burden for young dads through their “Strengthening Fathers” program, which is slated to launch on April 1.
The program will help dads, aged 16 to 24, reenter society and their family lives after periods of incarceration at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. In many cases, the men will have served time for felony offenses, said Program Manager Dana Watson.
“The community is being awakened to the fact that we need our fathers in our community,” said Up Center Chief Program Officer Andrea Long. “[With] the absence of our fathers being able to sustain themselves and being contributing assets to their families, families will continue to suffer.”
“Strengthening Fathers” is the product of a $350,000 grant awarded to the Up Center by the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention. The first leg of the three-year program will include about 10 fathers, with the goal of helping 80 by 2020.
The program will begin while the dads are still in jail, with 14 weeks of parenting workshops and creating a transitional plan, Watson said.
Upon release, the Up Center will provide nine months of comprehensive support, putting the dads in contact with a case manager, life coaches and local organizations, like Opportunity Inc. Together they will tackle challenges including finding employment and housing, getting Virginia identification, maintaining physical and mental health and paying child support.
“At the end of the day, we’re hoping to see a reduction in recidivism, meaning that the men are obtaining enough skills to keep them out of jail,” Watson said.
A key element of the program, Long said, will be the father’s relationships with their designated life coaches — men who have rich professional and private lives and can help the dads navigate the difficult landscape of life after jail.
The Up Center is looking for volunteer life coaches who will commit to mentoring a father for at least a year. The ideal volunteer would be a father who is at least 25 years old and can commit one or two hours of his time weekly. Men who have histories of incarceration and have reentered society successfully are encouraged to apply to become life coaches.
Long and Watson hope that the relationships dads develop with their life coaches will be genuine and carry on long after the program is done.
“A lot of our men may not have any experience of having somebody really in their corner,” Long said. “It’s critical that we have that long period of time, because it’s going to take that long for the relationships to really get authentic.”
“Strengthening Fathers” is the the Up Center’s first reentry program, but not the first time the agency has worked with fathers. From 2010 to 2015, the agency operated “Responsible Fatherhood,” a program that focused on working with dads who had histories of incarceration.
“We need our dads at the table,” Long said. “We need for them to be gainfully employed. We need them to engage with their children … When we have our dads out of pocket, that is a glaring gap.”
To learn more about “Strengthening Fathers,” contact Watson by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayfield can be reached at email@example.com.