Thirty-one fathers from Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and East New York gathered on Tuesday at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration for a very special celebration: their graduation from SCO Family of Services’ Fatherhood Program. 

“I am proud of the great example that you are setting,” said Keston Jones, director of the Fatherhood Program, to the assembled graduates. “We often hear a lot of negative things in the media about fathers who are not present in their children’s lives. But you did what you were supposed to do, because you believe in your family, you love your children, and you’re not going to let anything stop you from being in the lives of your family.”

The graduates successfully completed a free 12-week parenting class, aimed to empower previously absent dads to address their challenges and fears to become present, strong and caring father figures for their children, explained Keith Little, CEO and president of SCO Family of Services.

Fatherhood Program Director Keston Jones with one of the graduates. Photo courtesy J. Wilson for SCO

“This program is a continuation of the work that SCO is doing in the communities,” said Little. “We work with children, and we work with women who are raising young children. This program completes that circle by working with non-custodial fathers and getting them back to a position where they can be leaders in a household. And hopefully, they can provide leadership within the community.”

The Fatherhood Program, which launched in July 2017, is a parent support program that helps men develop essential parenting skills through classes, workshops, support groups and father-to-father mentoring. The program also offers assistance with issues like child support, visitation assistance, family budgeting and conflict resolution. In this supportive environment, fathers are encouraged to share their concerns and learn from one another.

Most participants are referred to the program by previous graduates, caseworkers, parole officers and nonprofit criminal justice organizations. But: not all fathers were thrilled about the idea of attending a 12-week program, as Darius Behling, one of the graduates, admitted.

“It wasn’t my intention to join this program at first; it was court-advocated,” said Behling. “Honestly, in the beginning, it was such a drag for me. But this program taught me self-control and self-preservation. I learned that you have to be patient; not only with others but also with yourself.”

SCO CEO and President Keith Little (r) with program participant Darius Behling. Photo courtesy J. Wilson for SCO

The participants shared a common goal: becoming better fathers and improving their relationships with their children. Having completed the class, program participant Anthony Crocker feels better equipped to face the challenges of fatherhood.

“We are trying to be better men,” said Crocker. “I learned how to be a better parent, and how to do the best I can to show my child a different way.”

“And it’s not only about showing the kids that we’re trying to be better fathers, but also to show other parents, who don’t know any better, a proper way of becoming a successful parent in the future,” added Behling. “There are a lot of fathers who really don’t know how to be a father, who never got taught the proper way when they were younger.“

To date, close to 500 fathers have participated in the program, and more than 250 completed it successfully. This year, SCO expects to serve well over 300 men. It underscores the need for the program, said Little, particularly in Central and East Brooklyn, where the majority of parenting programs are geared toward women.

A possible expansion of the initiative is, as so often, depending on funding. Currently, the program is financed by New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development. 

Keston Jones (seated) surrounded by his graduates. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

“Initially, we were contracted to serve around 360 individuals, and, so far, we have served over 500. So there’s an overwhelming need for these types of services, definitely here in Brooklyn,” said Little. “But it’s all contingent upon funding. If we can find a funder, we’re more than willing to expand the program.”

For Crocker, the program was “the best thing that could have happened.” He and Behling encourage other fathers to join the program if they feel the challenges and pressures of fatherhood.

“Do what you have to do to show a better side of you, and don’t let nobody tear you down,” advised Crocker, and Behling added, “I would say to other fathers: ‘The best hope and the best help is on its way. Just reach out to SCO Family of Services and step up to the plate.”

The next cohort of SCO’s Fatherhood Program will begin on Wednesday, July 10. For more information, please contact Keston Jones, MHS, at 917.966.4663, or via email, kjones@sco.org.

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Andrea Leonhardt

“Made in Germany,” Andrea Leonhardt is the managing editor for BK Reader. Andrea holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, with minors in American studies and education, and a master’s...

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