On Belle Isle, Detroit's island park in the Detroit River, two local organizations are spending their Father's Day teaching other young men with children what it means to be a father.
They'll haul out the grills on Sunday for barbeque (Dad's favorite), face painting, hip-hop music, and a brief workshop, as well as educational literature, CDs and DVDs. It's the third year that Young Fathers Standing United has spent the holiday with an ever-growing family of young men and their kids.
Young Fathers Standing United enlisted the help of newyoungfathers.com who came aboard this year to promote and support their programming. Both are non-profit organizations seeking to deepen the bonds between young fathers and their children-- while passing along some valuable parenting experience along the way.
"There's a lot of resources for young mothers," André Dandridge of newyoungfathers.com told The Huffington Post. But he added that the two Michigan-based groups are the only ones he knows of that specifically address the needs of young dads with children.
His group, which operates out of Detroit and Lansing and has a national web presence, works with an estimated 500 young men a year through its workshops; addressing topics like responsible behavior, child support, anger management, paying bills and setting budgets . In one workshop, newyoungfathers.com leaders might address how the men cope with the feelings of disrespect a father feels if his child's mother leaves him for a new husband or boyfriend. The group aims the presentations at men under the age of 25.
Dandridge, who is the father of two girls ages 13 and 17, said he began drawing up plans for the group in 2005, after his uncle, Christopher Dandridge, brought an article to him about a young East Coast mechanic. The man had shot the two mothers of his children after receiving his child support order; killing one of them, then committing suicide. Dandridge and his uncle, both young fathers themselves, felt the situation could have turned out differently if someone had stepped in and tried to help.
So Dandridge began enlisting friends to his cause. He said his group's work gives him hope that such intervention is possible.
"They could be the toughest dope-selling young men, but in their hearts they want to do good for their children." he said. "They want to do good and we pull that out of them."
By 2008, the group had published a handbook and launched their website.
Newyoungfathers.com has about 20 volunteers from around the country in places like Florida, Illinois and Virginia, as well as Detroit and Lansing. Their members help produce videos, develop workshops and promote the cause to young men. They use hip-hop music to spread their message, and sell a CD called "Fatherhood: The Soundtrack" on their website.
Although the effort started out as a self-funded project, it received a boost last year. That's when Dandridge became one of 20 men selected from Detroit and Philadelphia to receive a Black Male Engagement Leadership award, a project supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundations' Campaign for Black Male Achievement. Beyond money, Dandridge says the award gave him exposure and an opportunity to learn about the positive impacts hundreds of African-American men are making in their communities.
Dandridge sees that impact, too. Last year, newyoungfathers.com sponsored a workshop at the Detroit Zoo. Two young men from the audience approached him after the program. One, a young-father-to-be, shared how excited he was to try out some of the things he had learned that day once his child was born. The other had experienced a lot of tension in the past with his children's mother, but told Dandridge the workshop had convinced him to develop a better working relationship with her.
Dandridge said that the most important long-term effects of efforts like newyoungfathers.com and Young Fathers Standing United remain to be seen.
"Ultimately what it's going to do is make the community stronger so [these fathers' children] don't look for love on the street, so they don't look for it in the gang, so females don't look for it being strippers," he said. "It takes the burden off of the government. The fathers contribute and the mothers get off public assistance."
The Young Fathers Standing United and newyoungfathers.com Father's Day event takes place at Belle Isle, Shelter 8 in Detroit on Sunday June 17 from 12 pm to 7 pm.
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to André Dandridge's organization newyoungfathers.com as Young Fathers Standing United. Newyoungfathers.com supports the efforts of separate group Young Fathers Standing United.
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