HARTFORD – Just a year ago, Kyle Parrish was in a bind. Not yet 21 years old, he was in a relationship with a woman and had a son who was barely a year old. Mr. Parrish suffered an injury on the job and was without income while awaiting a settlement from Workmen’s Compensation. The bills mounted. So did the stress.
Luckily, the athletic, 6’4" former high school football player lived near Catholic Charities’ Asylum Hill Family Center on Gillett Street, and as he was entering a store in the same building he struck up a conversation with a man who worked with Catholic Charities’ new Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood program at the family center. Like all initiatives of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Hartford, the fatherhood program is funded in part through donations to the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
"We went from talking about my situation to him saying he might be willing to help me but at the same time, I had to be willing to help myself," Mr. Parrish said. "I had to partake in it; otherwise [my situation] wasn’t going to change."
A year later, he feels like a new man. "Right now, I’m blossoming. It was like fate," he said.
Lois Nesci, CEO of Catholic Charities, said the program began about two years ago because fathers were an underserved segment of the population.
"Although they were somewhat involved in the lives of their children, they recognized, and we recognized, that they needed to learn better parenting skills," Ms. Nesci said. "They needed to learn ways to be more engaged with their children and their families and to develop the resources in order to become more self-sufficient. In addition to parenting skills, we also provide them with classes in financial literacy and also help them build their employment skills."
The program helps men participate more, and more meaningfully, in the lives of their children, she said. Unemployed men who have become discouraged learn skills to make them more employable.
"As they’ve developed the skills for employment, their self-confidence increases," she said.
The program is free for fathers and expectant fathers. It offers discussions about responsible fatherhood, employment services, healthy relationship skills and more. Services include "24/7 Dads," a 12-week program focusing on how to be "a great dad 24 hours a day, seven days a week," according to Alwyn Foster, project assistant. "It’s the group where we talk about everything that affects dads, from raising your child to working," he said. "It’s a very challenging task. The schools are teaching them one thing, and their friends are doing something else."
Tiffany Murasso, director of Early Childhood and Family Center Programs, said the program is in four Catholic Charities Family Centers in Hartford and one in Waterbury.
Ms. Murasso said, "The Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Program helps dads by providing services in three key areas: positive parenting, economic stability and healthy relationships. The program helps dads develop parenting strategies and skills, learn how to help children with their growth and development, learn how to communicate effectively with their partners or with the mother of their child, and how to successfully co-parent."
She added, "Many of our dads come for the economic stability component because they need to gain employment so they can financially support their children."
A peer group meets and dictates its own agenda. "We just help to move it along. One week, the subject might be jobs; the next week, the subject might be interview skills; the next week, the subject might be child support," Mr. Foster said.
There are about 95 men enrolled in Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood, he said.
"It’s helped my relationship with my son’s mother," Mr. Parrish said. "It shows her that I’m doing something constructive to be a better father. It also helped me learn how women are, her expectations. It’s a day-by-day process."
He added, "It helped me personally understand the demands and responsibility that a father actually does have. It’s more than just, you know, giving them money and pick up the kid. It’s a lot more that you have to take part in. It’s even taking care of yourself, because if I don’t take care of myself, if I’m not healthy, God forbid something happens to me, and then he won’t have a father."
But men get a lot more than GED classes, employment and money management skills, and discussions on coping and conflict resolution. "What they also get – and what is so powerful about it – is that they feel heard, and understood," Ms. Murasso said. "Finally, there’s a program to support them, because they need help, too."
It’s all working for Mr. Parrish, one of more than 600 men who have been served by the fatherhood program in less than two years.
"I just happened to go to a job fair yesterday, which was a pretty good success, if I may say," he said. "I got a few leads. I just have to follow up on my end in terms of sending off emails and copies of my resume."
He used to work in security and loss prevention, but now he wants to work in social services, helping others the way he’s been helped, he said. "Being in the program has given me more of a drive to help others like myself. A lot of us don’t know about these programs. I didn’t know about them," he said.
"They helped me with my independence," Mr. Parrish said. "They actually helped me to become a man."
In addition to financial support from the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal to Catholic Charities, funding for this project was provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.