Michael Russell is the proud father of two girls, Makahla, age five, and Mahtalya, age two. Michael loves spending time with his family and taking his girls to the park or to the zoo. He currently has two jobs and works seven days a week in order to maintain his housing and continue to pay child support so his girls can stay with him when they visit.
However, his life looked very differently a couple of years ago. Michael had lost his job, he didn’t have a car, and his relationship with his child’s mother was strained. A friend mentioned the FATHER Project and that’s when he decided to give it a chance. “My biggest obstacle was my ability to keep a job. Many of my employers had layoffs and I needed additional training,” said Michael.
Since coming to the FATHER Project, Michael has been working closely with Ira his Case Worker. “Ira has been wonderful…very helpful! He’s helped me with interview skills, and getting more training.” Michael also participates in the parenting groups offered at the FATHER Project as well as receiving legal assistance for child support issues. “Going to groups helped me see what my errors were. I’m much better at getting along with their mom now.”
Michael says he’s come a long way, and he has. Currently, he has two jobs and is thriving at both. He now has a college degree in computer applications, and he also has stable housing and a routine visitation schedule with his daughters. However, he has even bigger goals for the future. “My personal goal is to own my own home and also have joint legal custody of my girls,” said Michael.
“Without the FATHER Project, I wouldn’t be where I am. My success is owed to the FATHER Project!”
Scott came to the FATHER Project about a year ago after being referred by a young fathers program in Duluth, MN, where he used to live. He didn’t have a job, he needed help getting custody of his seven-year-old son, Matthew and he struggled with depression. He had moved to Minneapolis to be with his now wife, Victoria, and he knew he needed help.
He began working with David and Catrice at the FATHER Project and said both were great to work with. They helped him connect with several community resources for counseling and helped him get medical insurance to cover his medication for depression. He also began going to parenting groups at the FATHER Project which he says were fantastic! “The groups were really empowering, giving you parenting skills and learning how to play with and teach your children. I’ve also used a lot of the same skills in navigating other relationships in my life,” said Scott. “They’ve made a huge difference in the lives of my family and other families too.”
Scott is now very active in his church and also attends recovery meetings. He and Victoria recently got married and he is enjoying spending time with his nine-month-old son, William. He enjoys spending time with his family— going to the park, swimming and cooking with his son. Scott recently received a Father of the Year Award at the Celebration for Fathers in Minneapolis. He was surprised to receive this honor. “I didn’t realize all the work I’ve done to get to where I am, until I got this award,” said Scott.
Today, Scott is working at a temp agency, but has recently been referred to one of Goodwill/Easter Seals other programs – the construction skills training program – and he hopes to start that soon. However, Scott has a long-term goal to become a family counselor. “I want to help people that have addiction in their families because, as a child, I suffered through alcohol addiction in my family.”
“I can see the difference I’ve made in my kids’ lives, and it affects more people than just me. The FATHER Project is a place you can go to learn to be a man and father as well as a leader in your community. I find it really rewarding to get involved in the community after going through the program. The FATHER Project has given me a positive outlook on life.”
JuVane is a proud father to six kids. He says he enjoys spending time with his kids and watching them learn from him. Not long ago, however JuVane was struggling with the stress of a number of issues including unemployment and making child support payments.
JuVane a Minneapolis resident, came to the FATHER Project because he was having difficulty paying child support for his six children. At the time, he didn’t realize all of the services and support available at the FATHER Project .
After coming to the FATHER Project, he soon realized his situation was not unique. “It was nice to come here and realize I’m not the only one with these issues. It’s a relief to come to groups and get advice from other guys who’ve been through a similar situation. Child support used to be an uphill battle for me, but the FATHER Project really helped me out.”
JuVane learned about the FATHER Project from a friend who said they could help him get his child support under control. He found they could also provide tutoring to help him make progress on his educational goals. . “They have been very patient with me while I’ve been studying for my GED. They kept pushing me when I didn’t want to keep doing it.” His hard work paid off when recently he earned his GED diploma.
“I’ve made some big changes now and have become role models for my kids – especially my oldest son. He’s now learning by watching my behavior. My girlfriend and the kids tell me my attitude is much better now and recently my oldest son told me, ‘I’m proud of you,’ ” JuVane said.
Though he’s still looking for a job, JuVane says his goal would be to get into the computer industry someday, like his brother. He is also considering going through the Goodwill/Easter Seals Automotive Skills Training Program. “My main goal is finding a job and staying on the right path so my kids see me headed in the right direction,’ says JuVane. “I’m just trying to keep them safe and make good decisions.”
“It’s like one big family here. Everyone leaves their differences at the door.” JuVane and his children still come to the FATHER Project often, and his girlfriend Regina is also involved. “My girls regularly come to the Play and Learn groups and love it. You’ll have to get a trespassing sign to keep me away from here,” he joked. “The FATHER Project is great!”
Ben Spears is a single father living in Minneapolis, but he grew up on a reservation in Northern Minnesota. He has now moved away from his family on the reservation to start a life and career as an arborist in the Twin Cities. Friends and family often ask him if he gets lonely here on his own, but he says he’s done it all for his sons.
He came to the FATHER Project to get help seeing his two children because the mother’s currently have custody. He doesn’t see his oldest son very often because the mother moved to Wisconsin. Ben says, at the time, he didn’t realize how important fathers were. His own father was absent as a child and when Ben graduated from high school, he wanted to try to reconnect with his father.
“I thought dads were nobody’s, that’s why I allowed her to leave with my first son. I don’t see him much since they moved away,” said Ben. “But now I realize how important dads are. And I’m not going to let the same thing happen with my youngest son.”
Since coming to the FATHER Project a year and a half ago, Ben has participated in the parenting classes, gotten help with legal issues and connected with other dads in similar situations. “It’s been good to meet other dads and it makes me feel good to have support from Ira, my case worker. He’s a good advocate and friend.”
“I’m most proud of being able to own up to the things I’ve done and being truly sorry for my actions. I didn’t realize how selfish I was,” said Ben.
In his free time, he likes to spend time with his sons. They go fishing and dance at pow-wows together. In the future he hopes to go back to art school. Ben likes to create art with feathers and beads and he also makes traditional dance outfits for pow-wows.
“It’s nice to know there is a place to go that’s going to say thank you for being a dad. The FATHER Project has helped me be more reasonable, and has helped me learn my role as a good parent.”
A former gang member, who admittedly sold drugs to make fast money, Darryl Green has done a complete 180 degree turn-around since being released from prison two years ago. Darryl – a proud father of two girls – has gone through the FATHER Project, gotten his GED, graduated from construction skills training at Goodwill/Easter Seals and is now enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) hoping to become a teacher.
“I wasted years of my life and spent years doing wrong. Now I want to spend years doing right. I have come so far, I can’t go back now. I just want to be successful and share that with others,” said Darryl.
Darryl came to the FATHER Project in 2009 when the mother of his children mentioned a couple programs to him and he ended up at the FATHER Project. “The FATHER Project embraced me. The people here are so warm and patient,” he says, “I had no skills before, but they helped me get my GED, made me stronger and helped me become a better parent.”
Darryl’s case workers helped him with mock interviews and preparing his resume, and they even found him stipends to help him with car repairs so he could get to work. Eventually he got a couple job interviews and he accepted the first one that was offered to him. Unfortunately, the recession affected the number of hours he could work, so he decided, with a bit of extra free-time, to go back to school. He is now a full-time student at MCTC and earning a 3.0 grade-point-average. He hopes to become a physical education teacher. “There are lots of avenues open to do positive things for my family and other people. I’m striving to become a better parent, but it’s an ongoing challenge. I want to continue to learn more.”
Darryl has completed the 12-week curriculum parenting group at the FATHER Project and an eight-week Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) group. He also completed 20 hours of the Parents as Teachers/Meld Parent Group Facilitator training as part of the FATHER Project leadership track.
Darryl now spends a lot of time with his two girls, going to movies or the mall, playing with them or having picnics. In his free time he volunteers at the YMCA and spreads the word about the FATHER Project. “This project continues to elevate me. The FATHER Project has been behind all of my success. My advice to others would be, with life comes change. You’re always growing. And if you are looking for growth and development the FATHER Project is the place to go. You’ll learn how to be a better parent and a better person.”
“Juan” enrolled in the FATHER Project in January of 2008. When he first started his involvement, his ex-wife was dealing with a Child Protection case and was at risk of losing custody of their child. Juan got involved and started working with Child Protection to prove that he was competent and qualified to take on responsibilities for caring for the child. Despite having been frustrated by an initial court appearance when he felt that the system was working against him, he persisted in his efforts.
Juan had initially been accused of domestic violence, and had been ordered to complete anger management, parenting classes, DWI programming, and an ENE evaluation. Having begun completing his obligations and responsibilities, at the subsequent court appearance (in January of 2008), the court granted him custody of his oldest daughter, age 15, who had been a victim of abuse by her mother. In February of 2008, Juan moved into a two bedroom apartment. In March, he completed his anger management program and also completed his DWI treatment program. He completed the Meld Latino parenting group in July 2008 and still attends regularly.
On April 15, 2008, Child Protection Services and the Guardian Ad Litem agreed that Juan was the most fit parent and granted him temporary custody of all 5 children. Juan has completed every single court requirement that has been requested and consistently stays in compliance with the program requirements of the FATHER Project. This means keeping in contact with his Advocate, attending group, completing monthly fatherhood plans and spending quality time with his children. He has shown tremendous improvement in his parenting skills and continues to be self-employed as a contractor. The Child Protection worker, Guardian Ad Litem, and Home Visitor have continually commented on the healthy interaction and positive involvement that Juan has developed with his children. Juan recently received a letter from his children’s school that speaks to their academic improvement since he has gained custody as well as indications that their overall self-esteem has improved tremendously.
The Home Visitor, the FATHER Project Advocate and the Guardian Ad Litem concur that Juan’s parenting improvements have led to a positive home environment for his children. The home is neat and clean, and his children are observed as well-mannered in multiple home visits. They speak highly of their dad and of their relationship with him. Juan’s children range from 8-15 years of age. Recently, Juan has been awarded full permanent custody of all 5 children due to his court requirements being fulfilled, participation in the FATHER Project, and the case with Child Protection now being closed.
“Shawn’s” life situation that led to his involvement in the FATHER Project began in June of 2007. When Shawn came to the FATHER Project the following year, he recounted a situation in which he said that his former girlfriend was pregnant, but that they had a big fight, and she refused to have any contact with him after that point. The ex-girlfriend and her mother informed him around that time that he would never see or be part of the child’s life. So as not to aggravate the mother of his child and the situation during the pregnancy, Shawn decided to stay away. In spite of that, Shawn never forgot about the baby and his feeling that he wanted to be a part of that child’s life.
Eventually, Shawn heard through mutual friends that the child was born. However, Shawn did not know if the child was a boy or a girl, the date of birth, nor the name of the child. So he came to the FATHER Project early in 2008 to get to know his child.
Shawn was not employed, did not have any money, and lived sporadically with friends and relatives. In fact, during that period, Shawn donated blood twice a week to get money for transportation and food. In spite of those difficult circumstances, he came to the FATHER Project daily with hopes of improving the situation and building a relationship with his child. Shawn worked with Hennepin County Child Support to set up genetic testing. The mother and grandmother persisted in putting up barriers, but before too long, the genetic testing was completed. In the meantime while waiting for the results of the genetic test Shawn was attending parent support groups, Empowerment groups, GED preparation classes, attending job club, and working with the employment counselor—all at the FATHER Project. About a month later Shawn got the results of the genetic test and was informed that the results were positive; he was the father of a baby girl.
At that point, Shawn started working with the lawyer at the FATHER Project to establish legal custody and parenting time for visitation with his child. In spite of the positive strides Shawn was making, there still was still much resistance from the mother and the grandmother. They still did not want him to see his child.
Through all of the ups and downs, Shawn remained positive and positively engaged in self and parenting development at the FATHER Project. Soon after, the court ordered supervised visitation. Shawn began seeing his young daughter once a week; now he not only knows her, but hears her calling him “daddy” on a regular basis. They both attend the FATHER Project’s “Play and Learn” group regularly, and Shawn’s parenting skills are improving rapidly. In addition, Shawn has worked hard to improve his economic situation and stability. He went from being unemployed to completing the Goodwill Easter Seals’ Bank Reconciliation training program (one of our industry specific, short-term training programs). He is currently employed in that field at U.S. Bank. Shawn does continue to experience difficulties with the mother and the grandmother, but it is all about Shawn’s daughter now, so he does not let the distraction bother him and his positive, forward progress.