Family Services is honored to operate the local Fathers & Family Network, which is part of a statewide networking and training group for professionals who work with fathers. This statewide network is generously funded and supported by The Children’s Trust.
The next Fathers & Family Network event is this Thursday, January 31, 2019 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Family Services’ central office located at 430 North Canal St. Lawrence. This month, we are pleased to welcome Michael Ramos, Fathers and Family Coordinator at The Children’s Trust. Mr. Ramos coordinates Fatherhood activities for The Children’s Trust, which, in addition to the Fathers & Family Network, also includes the Nurturing Fathers Program. Nurturing Fathers is a curriculum-based program that helps fathers build and strengthen positive parenting attitudes and behaviors.
Individuals interested in attending the January 31 meeting of the Fathers & Family Network are asked to RSVP to Betsy Green at [email protected]. Lunch will be provided.
Fathers & Family Network Kicks Off 2018 – 2019 Series
As an organization deeply rooted in the community, input from those populations we serve often steers the programming we offer here at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley. Last summer, at the year-end meeting of our Fathers and Family Network, a number of Dads in attendance shared tales of their difficulties in navigating the states’s court system and expressed frustration at how these challenges often impeded visitation with their children. Family Services Family Programs Director Betsy Green quickly picked up on their common refrain and developed a line-up of relief for the network’s 2018 – 2019 season of programming. First up in the series were two veterans of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) – Child Support Criminal Justice Specialists Janet Champa and John Fowler who together brought their (combined) 60 years of experience to the October kick-off meeting.
“Good to know,” was a comment made throughout the morning as the DOR representatives offered their insights. “Child support… it’s a different story for guys,” summed up Fowler (pictured above with his colleague Janet Champa). To the providers and case workers in attendance he emphasized the importance of paternity when it comes to visitation rights. “Paternity gives you the right to custody. Custody gives you the right to parenting time. Without paternity, none of this happens for fathers.” Another take-away for those on hand was the importance of being present for any and all child support hearings. Fowler shared with the group a number of first-hand real-life tales in illustration of his position on this front. “If you don’t show up, you leave your fate in someone else’s hands. Fathers have got to be there to speak for themselves!”
The message of both Champa and Fowler’s presentation to the Fathers and family Network was essentially, “we’re here to help”. Rather than dodge the Department, Dads especially can benefit from the DOR’s assistance. “A lot of the trouble we see out there today (such as the opiod crisis and gang involvement) is a result of the father being missing from the picture. We want to help Dads get back into the lives of their children.” If the swell of audience questions was any indication, their message proved timely. “This was great information this morning,” offered Flor, a Case Worker with the Department of Children and Families. “I work with men, and there is so much we do not know about navigating the courts. These fathers come to us and tell us their stories about how afraid they are to reach out to the DOR. I want to show them how they can work with people like us to help them. Today, I learned so much that I can now share with them.”
Family Services parenting programs recognize that caring for family members is a challenge. In our Parenting Programs department, trained and experienced professionals help parents, children and relatives gain the knowledge and skills they need to care for one another, and create a stronger, healthier family unit through a variety of services. All service providers are welcome to please join us for our next Fathers and Family Network meeting on November 29. To earn more about Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Parenting programs, please visit…
Dinner and Diplomas as Strengthening Couples Fall Program Concludes
Love was very much in the air at the recent graduation reception for Family Services’ Fortaleciendo Parejas (Strengthening Couples) program. Muted lighting, dinner, soft music, heartfelt salutes… and diplomas were all integral to the program finale’s mood. The celebration was well earned by the eight couples in attendance, and their collective sense of accomplishment added much to the evening. Some eight weeks ago they began their journeys with the intention of recommitting to their spouses and reinforcing their unions.
Meeting that goal requires much from each participant, and if the joy and tears flooding the graduation reception ware any indication, that agency pays off. “I’ve been with my husband for 11 years. I really thought it was the end for us,” shares Antonie as her eyes well up. “Then, we discovered this program. Coming here gave us the tools to work on it. I think this program should be offered in EVERY town!”
Such testimonials filled the room over the course of the evening – with one couple (pictured above) beaming as they shared the news of their engagement to be married as a result of the work they accomplished through the program! In addition to the presentation of diplomas, the graduation reception also included some closing instructional moments, offered by Program Facilitator Carmen Fortuna. During this segment she shared best practices for emboldening and nurturing partnerships from the Within Our Reach curriculum which drives the Strengthening Couples series. Within Our Reach builds on couple participants’ existing strengths and adds critical life and relationship skills to create safer, more stable unions that help heighten the quality of life for the individuals in that relationship as well as their children, including: fostering improved communication, managing expectations, and devoting themselves to a mutual commitment and support. The curriculum was developed with critical relationship strategies that focus on how adults learn best– by engaging in activities that reinforce self-awareness and apply healthy decision-making strategies to their own circumstances.
“With every group of graduates I see the same swell of positive energy from the couples,” shares Family Services’ Family Programs Director Betsy Green. “They don’t want the program to end. They want to stay together as a group and continue. And, most of the new couples who will arrive to the program when we offer it next will do so as result of their referrals.” Ms. Green is careful to articulate that the program is not a “fix”. “We intentionally refer to the series as Strengthening Couples, because it’s not just about repairing the union. Within Our Reach is more a set of tools and practices we share to reinforce relationships wherever the couples happen to be – whether just starting out, or many years in.”
Family Services of the Merrimack Valley recognize that caring for family members is a challenge and recognizes the need for couples to maintain positive relationships that are healthy and nurturing. In our parenting programs department, trained and experienced professionals help parents, children and relatives gain the knowledge and skills they need to care for one another, and create a stronger, healthier family unit. The next Fortaleciendo Parejas group begins on October 18. Please call the Strengthening Couples Program Coordinator at 978-327-6656 for further information.
Programs & Services for Families Include:
- Putting Children 1st – Court mandated parent education for divorcing parents.
- Parenting Journey – A 12-week parent education curriculum that helps parents come to terms with their childhood experiences in order to make positive changes going forward.
- Siempre Papa (24/7 Dad) – A multi-week curriculum especially for Latino men that addresses their unique concerns and needs in their role as fathers.
- Young Empowered Parents (YEP!) – YEP! works with pregnant and parenting teens to learn how to care for their children while they continue to pursue their education and life goals.
- Strengthening Couples – A 8-week program designed to help couples form and sustain a healthy relationship.
- Family & Community Resource Center – Located at One Union Street in Lawrence, MA, the FCRC provides a host of support services for families, including workshops, community events, case management, and parenting classes.
Our Role is to Support These Dads on the Community Level.
Each month Family Services plays host to a growing gathering of engaged professionals with a shared mission… to provide best practices for local dads as they parent their children. The group, known as the Friends and Fatherhood Network, is comprised of program directors and other providers from organizations such as Head Start, Healthy Families, The Department of Children and Families, Children’s Friend & Family Services. For them, these monthly meetings are not to be missed as they provide a platform for learning and also an opportunity to exchange common obstacles and plot solutions. The collective hope and high regard the Fathers and Family Network holds for dads is quite remarkable, and it fuels their day-to-day tireless work on the front line in and around the Merrimack Valley. In honor of the finish to another productive year supporting fathers, the network recently welcomed a panel of seven men to their June meeting inviting each of them to open up about their firsthand experiences employing the lessons learned through programs such as Siempre Papa and how that type of community support continues to serve their growth as parents.
It’s not often that a group of men come together and bare their souls in the public eye. But for Jeffrey, Max, Angel, Oleo, Angelo, Umigel and Ramon, nothing is more important than their children and were proud to express that love – especially within the safe setting of the Fathers and Family Network. Kids’ food allergies, financial hardships, emotional wellness, childcare and custody, being present, communication challenges… these are all parenting issues with which they grapple regularly and that matter deeply to each of them. What follows here is a glimpse of the raw testimony the panel shared as they let their guards down through tears and a sense of unwavering pride for the roles they have reclaimed in the lives of their children.
“I grew up in the Hancock Housing Projects. I got involved with gangs at a young age, then came a criminal record. I didn’t grow up with a father figure in my life, so when I became a young father myself I said, ‘I need to raise this son’. At the time I was made aware I had a son, I was living in Florida at the time because that’s where the money was. But, when I found out that I was in fact the father of this child, I dropped everything. I came straight back to Lawrence and took a job as a bill collector – anything I could to try and support this kid. It wasn’t easy. I had nothing. But, I never stopped trying. Years later, today I’m in a long term relationship and I’m not only a father to my son, but a step-father and a grandfather.”
“We have a father problem in the streets of Lawrence. Not just a property problem. We tend to live in a box. Coming to the programming offered here has helped me to look beyond those confines. It opens my eyes as to why a lot of us are where we are today – we didn’t have father figures in our lives.” Angel, Youth Mentor in the City of Lawrence
“I’m here at these meetings because I want to be a better father figure to my two kids. Now, I don’t go on the block no more. Instead, I use that time to visit with my kids and give their mother breaks.” Angelo, young father, mentored by Angel (above)
“I don’t like conflicts. I like to stay in peace. My first relationship had a lot of difficulties. I went through a lot, and that relationship was a very long road for me and my children. This group setting offers me the chance to open up about some of the tremendous challenges I continue to face in being a part of my daughters’ lives. I have a very demanding job and travel a lot for work. The fatherhood training I received through Family Services has been an eye-opener for me. My Dad was never around when I was growing up. One thing I learned here is that when my kids are awake, I give my attention to them. The work? It can wait until they are in bed.” Diego, father of four
“My story began at 19 when I go the call saying, ‘I’m pregnant.’ That was an atomic explosion for me, but I said to myself I am always going to be there for my son, because my Dad was always there for me. I’ve had ongoing problems with my son’s mother for many, many years. She made it very difficult for me to spend time with my son when he was young. I would cry out my anger and my sadness and my frustration every night, because being able to be with my son was all that I wanted. My son is now 15, and we have a great relationship. I became a therapeutic mentor to other dads because I want to show that there are fathers who want to be there for their kids. Mothers and fathers, we are both equal. And, we are both necessary in the lives of our kids.” Umigel, father and therapeutic mentor
“I’m a single parent now. I had some trouble with the law over the years. When my daughter’s mother passed away, I sought out the services of Siempre Papa because I needed to work with the judicial system to obtain custody of her.” Jeffrey, father
“One of the things I promised my (first born) son was, ‘I’m not going to be like my Dad.’ The last time I saw him he was living under the bridge doing drugs. It took me many years navigating difficulties with his mother, but through the power of Google and my supportive (current) wife, I was able to reconnect with my son after a seven year gap. My biggest problem as father as of late has been communication with my kids. I work long hours and feel the constant pressure of trying to provide for my family financially. I completed the Siempre Papa workshop, and it was a huge help. One of the things that Dionis taught me is that each day when I come home from work, the first thing I need to do is to go and spend time with my kids, give them a hug and tell them that I love them. Now. that’s become my daily routine, and the habit has made a huge difference. Coming here to these meetings with other dads, helps me to understand that it’s not just me. We all have problems.” Ramon, father of three (pictured above with Family Services’ Siempre Papa Program Coordinator, Dionis Mezquita)
“The Siempre Papa classes got me to understand a bigger definition of the term ‘provider’. It’s not just about providing financially. I never missed any of the classes. In fact, didn’t want to see them end. I almost want more! Gathering with these other fathers is like getting therapy from 10 different people with real problems. I learn from them how I can make corrections in my own life.” Max, (later in life) enjoying his role as a father with a second family
One after the other, the dads’ heartfelt accounts arrested those in the audience. Emotions at times swelled for many of the panelists as they documented their struggles co-parenting with their ex-spouses and navigating the judicial system – most of whom took the pro-active step of putting themselves on child support in an effort be a part of their kids’ lives. “There are flaws in the system. We’re hearing that here today. Our role is to, on the community level, support these dads in their role as co-parents,” pointed out Family Services’ Family Programs Director Betsy Green in acknowledging these truths among her colleagues and peers in the room.
“Thank you for being in your kids’ lives,” offered a Domestic Violence Coordinator from the Department of Children and Families. “YOU are evidence. With the little bit that each of you had, just look where you are today.” That type of praise ensued as the gentleman wrapped up their candid conversation. After sharing some of the tremendous challenges she had faced raising her children with an absentee father, one single mother on hand fought back tears in her salute to the panel of dads… “I am honored to be here today with each of you, and so grateful to Family Services for making this forum available. You don’t even know the happiness that I have to see the efforts you are making to be in your children’s lives. I wish any one of you had been the father to my children. It’s not just about paying bills, kids need a father present in their life.”
Family Services is grateful to the panel of dads and to everyone who contributed to another productive year for the Fathers and Family Network. The network will resume its programming in September. Through our Siempre Papa program, men learn about the true meaning of masculinity, effective ways to truly be a provider, recognize and manage societal and cultural expectations, how to understand and express emotions, positive discipline techniques, and handling stress. To learn more about Family Services’ parenting programs, please visit…