2008-05-09 / Community

'Fathers First' Provides Outreach For Men

By Miriam Rosenberg

Thomas Nowik, left, explains how the Fathers First program has helped him, as David McNeil looks on.
Some men come to get answers for problems at home.

Some come to pass on to others their first-hand knowledge of how to raise a family.

Some come to find the answers they need to help others, such as patients or clients, in their own work.

Fathers First, a program that began in 1997, teaches men how to be better fathers and also better people.

David McNeil, 44, who has four sons, described his experiences with Fathers First.

"It's a collection of men learning from each other," said McNeil, whose problem was communicating with his boys 7, 9, 11 and 14.

McNeil has been coming to the group for three years, and thanks to the support from the other men in Fathers First, he has learned there is more to being a father than bringing home a paycheck each week.

"I'm communicating with my sons, not just coming home and going to sleep and eat," said McNeil, who added he is now playing sports with his sons. "Now I'm helping them with their homework and doing the laundry."

L-R: Thomas Nowik (the father of two girls), David McNeil (who has four sons), Fathers First coordinator Jamal Young, social worker Lawrence Simmons, grandfather Tommy McCaskill and founder David Jones get together for The Wave's interview.
In the process he has also gotten his GED.

"In order for them to grow, they have to see me grow," said McNeil.

About the group he said, "If you have a collective among men learning from each other and sharing their mistakes, as well as their fortunes … I don't think I would have learned so much so quickly."

Thomas Nowik came to the group in 2005 at the age of 40.

"They have problems, I have problems," said Nowik about his friends in the support group. "We talk about how we can solve those problems for the whole family."

He explained, "We speak about everything."

Through the group, Nowik said the solution to his five-year-old daughter's addiction to the computer was solved.

"Now it is only two hours a week on the computer," he said.

The support isn't just there during meetings; the men have the phone numbers of the other members, in case they need to talk.

In addition to helping new fathers understand what they need to know to become good fathers, it allows men who have already been there to pass on what they learned over the years.

Tommy McCaskill is a retired grandfather of a young boy who attends the Early Head Start program where Fathers First is located. McCaskill has lived in Rockaway for 42 years and is a coach for the T-ball team at St. John's Baptist Church.

"I could be of help to them by [my] raising three kids and seven grandkids, who I helped to raise, and by the knowledge and wisdom I can give them," said McCaskill, who was attending his first meeting during The Wave's interview.

Social worker Lawrence Simmons counsels parents and children in order to help families work through various problems.

"I mostly work with single mothers, but sometimes I also work with fathers," said Simmons. "There are no services for them [fathers]."

Simmons continued by saying, "My basic [goal] is finding a way I can help different fathers."

Since we talked last May with the founder, David Jones and coordinator Jamal Young, the program has begun to receive $50,000 a year from the city's Department of Health.

According to Young, they see approximately 75 to 100 individuals a year who take part in counseling sessions, and the program makes 200 to 250 outreach contacts a year.

It has helped fathers get their GEDs, and learn about such issues as infant mortality, abuse and health care. The program gets referrals from Addabbo Health Center, Safe Space, Rockaway Development and Revitalization Corporation and other community based organizations.

Jones told The Wave that the initiative has expanded to include help provided between fathers themselves.

"It's almost a natural transition. There's a more mentoring component," said Jones. "It's not just taking information and running with it, but coming back to help others."

In addition to young fathers, the program also accepts fathers of all ages looking for support.

"We started with adolescent fathers, now we've expanded to include fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers - anyone who wants to be positively involved in a child's life," continued Jones.

Within the last year, Fathers First has also opened a new site in the Bronx, and Jones said they hope to expand to the three other boroughs in the future.

Fathers First works with the Visiting Nurse Services of New York and is located in the Early Head Start Program building at 86-01 Rockaway Beach Boulevard.

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