After three years of unemployment following the recession, Felix, 36, went through the job-training program. The Bronzeville father now works in bus service maintenance for the CTA, where he recently earned a promotion, an advancement he excitedly welcomed.
In addition to the workforce training, fathers are also offered a range of additional services, including workshops on positive parenting, healthy relationships with co-parents, stress management, domestic violence prevention and parental rights. Nathan and MFS also help the men secure stable housing – even covering certain fees associated with moving and finding them furniture – and provide necessities for their kids, like strollers and diapers. “It’s a partnership. You make a step, I make a step,” Nathan said of his dynamic with the fathers.
Though the program goes above and beyond to invest in the men, both Lavelle and Felix acknowledge it takes strong commitment from the fathers to make the most of what’s being offered. “Young Fathers helps you if you help yourself,” Felix said. “There’s only so much they can do to help you. They can’t come in and hold your hand in an interview and make you say the right things. It’s what you put into it.”
aving completed many of the trainings, Lavelle mostly utilizes the program for counseling services and mentorship from Nathan and other members. Though he’s balancing parenthood with work and preparing for his entrance exams for the Chicago Police Academy, while currently living in a shelter apartment due to water damage in his own home – Lavelle’s found a support system to tackle the challenges he’s facing.
“I took the positives I learned from my father and learned the rest from Young Fathers,” Lavelle said. “I was soaking it in. The more opportunities I learned about, I took it in and made myself a better father.”
In addition to desiring a living wage and benefits to support his family, Lavelle aims to turn Nathan’s investment into a lifeline for his neighbors and others in the world. As a police officer, Lavelle seeks to enhance community relations and help connect people to social services and mentors, like the fathers’ program.
Felix, who was first introduced to program by a friend, also hopes to pay it forward. He seeks out other fathers who are struggling to find work and encourages them to join the program. “If you wanna change for yourself, this program will help you,” Felix said. “You never know about your job or whether you’ll have family problems, but you always have the Young Fathers program to go back to.”
While securing life’s necessities is the program’s focal point, it also prioritizes the need for family fun and connection. The program’s coordinators host annual family outings, like zoo tours and picnics, for the participants, their significant others and children to enjoy. On Thursday, the Young Fathers program hosted their annual banquet and invited the men and their families for a meal and celebration of their accomplishments.
Sitting at his first banquet in 2016, Lavelle turned over his program to find he’d been awarded Father of the Year and a $1,000 scholarship for his son, an acknowledgement that still brings a smile to his face two years later.
“I was in school, working two part-time jobs,” Lavelle reminisced. “They were all smiling at me. That felt good to be acknowledged, even if it was for something I should be doing.”
Last week, sitting in Grant Park on a warm evening, Lavelle exuded excitement for the next night’s festivities. It would be the first time he and his fiancé would have a night out without the kids, and he couldn’t wait to put his suit on again.