“As fathers and black men, it’s hard for us to want to express emotion, or to even connect with other fathers and men.”

Darius Rideout is discussing the obstacles he overcame at Project D.A.D., a program that teaches both parenting and professional skills to noncustodial Philly fathers.

“It was more than the professional and the social things," Rideout explained. "It was a bonding moment we don’t really get as black men too many places or too often."

Project D.A.D. (Developing Active Dads) is a Philadelphia nonprofit program, a subsidiary of People for People Inc., that helps fathers become closer to their children through eight weeks of social and professional development.

 

Combining social skills with employment training is an integral part of Project D.A.D.’s mission. For the eight-week program, noncustodial fathers attend four-hour classes Monday through Thursday. The first four weeks of Project D.A.D. consist of family workshops on responsible parenting and healthy relationships. Workshops on economic stability include working on interviewing and applying to jobs. The final four weeks focus on specific vocations, such as helping fathers obtain certifications in managerial services to work in restaurants, getting an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 10-hour construction training, and forklift certifications.

Rideout is a father of a 2-year-old son who completed the Project D.A.D. program and appreciated the program’s professional and social support. He described himself as “a guy from the streets,” but Project D.A.D. helped him take his existing skills— he worked as a forklift driver — to become professionally certified in the field. 

“Percy Jones [a Project D.A.D. facilitator] made sure that we made something of ourselves and didn’t squander our opportunities away,” Rideout said. “Just being able to work to earn those certifications gives you a sense of consistency. I got my OSHA 10. … For them to take their time and allow us to grasp things for free helps, because people like me may be going through financial trouble for whatever reason and it’s helping me get a chance to get out of that space of life.”

Percy Jones is a facilitator and case manager with Project D.A.D. He came to the nonprofit after four and a half years of working with boys and young men and noticing something consistently missing in their lives. “I worked with young boys from 10-22 and during that whole time period with those young men they all pretty much said the same thing: ‘I wish I had a positive male figure, wish I had my dad, etc.,’” Jones said.

Helping noncustodial fathers develop personal and professional skills to be there for their kids growing up is a key part of why Jones and his team work at Project D.A.D. “With Project D.A.D., we just want to get the fathers back in their children’s lives,” Jones explained.

Jones added that Project D.A.D. is designed for fathers to have consistent professional careers afterward. “We have three job developers that help them toward the end of the program and they come out looking to be employed by the time they leave our program,” Jones said.

Project D.A.D.’s director Kirk Berry emphasized that fathers coming home from prison are not the only people that Project D.A.D. helps.

“Fathers who are coming out of prison are definitely welcome to be part of Project D.A.D., but it’s not a requirement that you are coming home,” Berry said. “There are fathers who are returning home who may very well have access to their children. Our program isn’t targeted toward fathers who don’t have access. Noncustodial is just a legal term that states they don’t share custody with their co-parent.”

Berry and Jones both said combining social and professional adults gives fathers the best chance to succeed in their children’s lives. “As Mr. Jones talked about, ‘How can we talk about parenting and fatherhood without talking about employment?,’” Berry said. “We need to be able to take care of our children. It’s a shame that the conversation around fatherhood isn’t more positive, and every day we work with dads who want to be a part of their children’s lives.”

Project D.A.D. has operated on grant funding for nine years, with its current grant ending in 2020. Berry hopes that Project D.A.D.’s track record will allow it to continue beyond 2020 if they can get more funding.

If it does continue, it will continue to provide more life-changing experiences for fathers like Rideout.

“It gave me more than I expected it to. … Project D.A.D. gave me a sense of drive and determination that I was lacking a little bit,” Rideout said. “It gave me that ‘umph’ to wake up every day again.”

Project D.A.D. is a subsidiary of People for People Inc., an antipoverty nonprofit with several different programs. For more information, visit peopleforpeople.org.

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