Alfred Dill was on the right track for a while, but lost his way.
A resident of Newark, N.J., Mr. Dill was enrolled at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, for two years. Then his mother, his main source of stability and high expectations, died of cancer. In his grief, Mr. Dill “just forgot everything I had learned,” he says. He resorted to the street—dealing drugs, joining a gang.
With the birth of his daughter five years ago, Mr. Dill, who grew up fatherless, slowly started to rethink his life. Last year he entered Fathers Now, an intensive 10-week program that provides mentors, one-on-one counseling, job training, and instruction in math, reading, child rearing, and basic skills like household finance. The group also offers activities for fathers and their children, all aimed at men who have lost jobs and homes, or who are reentering the work force after leaving prison.
Now 27, Mr. Dill has gotten back on track. He is working two part-time jobs, studying to be a medical technician, serving as a mentor and motivational speaker, and developing a business plan for his own youth-development charity.
Most important, Mr. Dill says, the program has encouraged him to be a better, more involved father and has helped him improve his relationship with his daughter’s mother.
Fathers Now began three years ago as a program run by the Newark Comprehensive Center for Fathers under the auspices of Newark Now, a charity founded by Mayor Cory Booker. The program has served a total of about 300 graduates. Its total budget is about $170,000, raised mostly from foundations and supplemented by a small grant from the New Jersey Department of Labor. The Fathers Now program represents 13 percent of Newark Now’s annual budget, according to LaVar Young, the charity’s president.
Fathers Now, which operates with three staff members, has been able to place 70 percent of its graduates in jobs, and reports a very low rate of prison returns among the 90 percent of its participants with criminal histories.
Mr. Young says he was initially surprised at how many young men in Newark’s poor neighborhoods have never learned basic daily skills. Many of them “have never had a professional job, never been accountable to anybody, and don’t know what it is to pay a bill or balance a checkbook,” he says.
The program prepares its participants for the job market in part by using a highly structured daily schedule; sessions run six hours a day. Noting that the strict 9 a.m. start can be a challenge for men who have never had to wake up early, Mr. Young says that “we’re sticklers for time” in the program. “We’re trying to break old bad habits,” he says, and instill good ones.
Here, a beaming Jeffery Johns, accompanied by his young son, attends the graduation ceremony for his Fathers Now class in early 2010.