- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

D.C. resident Nathaniel Wallace, a father of 11, often struggles to make ends meet on his occasional pay as a landscaper at Georgetown University.

“I have a problem managing money,” said Mr. Wallace, 54, who has children from 10 to 35. When he needed help paying a gas bill, Mr. Wallace turned to the D.C. Fatherhood Initiative, a community-service program that started in 2004.

“Thank God for the fatherhood program,” Mr. Wallace said, “because without it, I might be homeless.” Two years later, the program has helped about 3,000 low-income fathers such as Mr. Wallace and now plans to expand through a $10 million federal grant won in a nationwide contest.

Debra Daniels, a D.C. Department of Human Services spokeswoman, said the program essentially helps fathers “overcome whatever barriers they have to be good fathers to their children.”

The program includes 11 community-based projects that offer fathers training in personal and parenting skills and provides them with such basics as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and classes on substance-abuse prevention.

One group, the United Planning Organization, which is helping Mr. Wallace manage his money, stresses mentorships and classroom instruction but also has weekly meetings for fathers to express their frustrations and support each other. The men are allowed to bring their children, wives or girlfriends.

James Hall, a single father in Southeast, joined the program three years ago. He says he keeps coming back because he likes what he is learning about fatherhood and life.

Mr. Hall, 20, hopes his participation will lead to a career in the legal field. But for now he is more concerned about getting settled and putting his 3-year-old daughter in school, while he continues to build his credentials as a youth counselor at Peaceoholics — an outreach program to stop youth violence in Southeast.

“These men are happy and grateful that there are some services available to assist them,” Ms. Daniels said. “It’s a great program and it helps to dispel what I believe to be a myth: that fathers don’t care.”

The $10 million Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Community Access Program grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and will be distributed over five years.

The District was one of only two jurisdictions in the county to be awarded the grant. The other went to the Denver Fatherhood Coalition.

Ms. Daniels said the program won, in part, because of its wide range of programs and success in helping fathers.

Program officials said they will use the money to expand services and help more fathers.

Joi Yeldell, grants administrator for the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the agency will oversee the disbursement of the money and that the goal is to expand the number of fathers served from 1,000 to 2,500 annually.

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