How did you get into this type of work?

Coach at the OfficeI got started in fatherhood work because of my own unique challenges, things that I’ve had to overcome, and I believe that these trials and tribulations have uniquely shaped me to help other men overcome those same trials. Those include growing up without a dad, anger issues early in life, which led me to make some bad choices like dropping out of high school at age 16. Dropping out of high school really puts you behind the 8-ball, it really puts you behind everyone else. And you spend the rest of your life trying to play catch-up. But in doing that, there’s a lot of frustration, a lot of pain – some of that led me to using drugs to self-medicate. Right about the time that crack hit the scene in Baltimore, I got caught up in a 10-year spiral of doing crack cocaine, which also led to a period of incarceration. I lost my home, my vehicle, and more importantly, my family. One day you just wake up and you recognize: I know there’s something better for me, that I should be doing better. I just wanted to be a better person. I was tired of living the way I was. With the drug addiction, I just stopped cold turkey. I decided: enough is enough. The motivation for that was my wife had decided to leave me and take my children. It was devastating.  Losing my family was the impetus to cause me to want to turn my life around.

How long have you been involved with RFFI?

I have been involved since 2009. Once I moved here to Richmond and began to get my life back together, I recognized that there was something in my heart that yearned to  be with more positive men—guys that I could look up to, guys that could begin to reshape and remold me into the type of individual I wanted to be. Men are in a way, kind of private. They don’t want other people knowing what their business is. They suffer silently. I wanted to not only help myself but help them at the same time. There’s a calling on my life to do this type of work. RFFI provided resources and training that were free and really instrumental to me beginning to build a foundation. I’m really grateful for the relationship.

What is it like to lead a fatherhood support group, and what do you enjoy about it?

The group provides a safe place for men to come and talk about the issues they’re struggling with. To me, the most rewarding experience is that at first, a lot of these young men are being made to come – they don’t want to be there, they don’t see the value of being there. They come in with very hard exteriors. Initially, they don’t really participate. But generally, by the time the workshops are over, through the diversity of our facilitators and the classes…eventually they get reached. And they begin to open up; you begin to find out who they are. They begin to smile. You see a totally different person than who comes in initially. To see their light bulbs going off, to see them getting an understanding, to see them release some frustration, just to see them empowered—it’s a better high than any drug.

RFFI Program Coordinator Anthony J. Mingo, Sr. traveled to Kansas City, Mo., in June to present at the National Partnership for Community Leadership’s 18th Annual International Fatherhood Conference.

KC conferenceSince 1998, the International Fatherhood Conference has brought visibility and voice to the field of responsible fatherhood through the efforts of practitioners, researchers, and policy makers. This year’s theme, “Strengthening Parenting Relationship Assets To Improve The Well-Being of Children,” grew out of an emerging consensus regarding the importance of both fathers and mothers to the healthy growth and development of children. A growing body research indicates that children fair better on a variety of well-being indicators when both parents are actively involved and engaged in their lives. As part of this focus, Mr. Mingo presented RCHD’s innovative work in engaging mothers in fatherhood programming as well as presenting a learning track “ A Public Health Model: Child Well Being and Family Fragmentation: Solutions for Healthy Families”.  Conference participants were introduced to how the Richmond City Health District, through RFFI, implemented a public health model to strengthen families in the City of Richmond and surrounding counties using the findings from its Cost and Solutions report findings “A Public Health Report: Child Well-Being and Family Fragmentation: Solutions for Healthy Families”.  The purpose of the presentation was to explore evidence-based child welfare policies and practices to safeguard children. RFFI was able to demonstrate that through its use of innovative intervention strategies and programming, engaging stakeholders, mobilizing resources and aligning activities ensured that Richmond is “a city where children experience the benefits of fathers and mothers working cooperatively and responsibly to raise health children”

The 2016 International Fatherhood Conference engaged attendees in discussions and workshops on evidence-based and evidence-informed practices, and, policies and research findings that are leading to advances in the responsible fatherhood field. Conference workshop topics focused on fatherhood and early childhood development; social welfare policy; healthy relationship and marriage education; co-parenting; child support; fatherhood development; motherhood development; re-entry; employment and entrepreneurship; faith-based approaches; state-wide projects and initiatives, youth development, social media, proposal writing and fund raising; and outcome measurement and evaluation. The conference also featured a pre-conference on evaluation of fatherhood programs, speakers and workshop presenters who will share their expertise on effective practices.

A new fatherhood support group started in May at the Healing Place, a long-term shelter and recovery program for homeless men with drug and alcohol addictions.

Healing placeStephen Vicoli, transition coordinator for men at the facility, said he first heard of RFFI from Richmond City Health Director Danny Avula, who had toured The Healing Place. RFFI Coordinator Anthony Mingo later got in touch, and came to the facility to gauge interest among its residents.

“We’re always looking for new ways and new partners in connecting fathers in Richmond with their children,” Mr. Mingo said. “This new group is another avenue to help men rebuild that relationship, and impact child well-being.”

The new group follows the model of RFFI’s existing support group at the Rubicon Substance Abuse Treatment Center. It adheres to the RFFI logic model, which includes a 2-week module on trauma and resilience, the National Partnership for Community Leadership’s a 15-session fatherhood development curriculum, and a 2-week co-parenting module. Make-up classes are conducted at the completion of each session. Participants must complete all sessions in order to graduate.

The group, which meets on Wednesday afternoons, started with five men, but is expected to grow.

“Any resource available regarding improving or establishing the ability to be a responsible, effective father is surly needed here,” Mr. Vicoli said. “All of these men have suffered from substance abuse and have limited practice and or skills in that area….It is my hope that the men that take advantage of this group will have a new and healthy experience with their children and their sobriety.”