BY MARYANN GOGNIAT EIDEMILLER
For The Bulletin
About 150 family members — mostly dads and their kids — attended a picnic Wednesday at the Private Industry Council Westmoreland/Fayette, Inc. (PIC) on Donohoe Road in Hempfield Township. There were games, crafts and homemade Father’s Day cards, and Steve Blass of the Pittsburgh Pirates talked about his experience growing up and the importance of having a father in his life.
His message was directed at the young and older fathers who were there, grandfathers who are raising their grandchildren, and moms who are taking on both roles of parenting. In the story of his childhood and baseball career, his dad mattered.
The event was an early Father’s Day celebration for participants in PIC’s Dads Matter program for men who want to be better fathers.
“The goal is to have fathers more present in their children’s lives and to help them to be the best father they can be,” said Kathryn Brunetta, PIC case manager and job developer who is involved with Dads Matter.
The fatherhood program is designed to help dads, expectant dads, stepfathers, grandfathers, teen fathers and any father figure in Westmoreland, Fayette and Washington counties to become more active in their children’s lives. Participants have children up to age 24, are at-risk of poverty, are unemployed or underemployed, and can include military personnel, individuals involved in the criminal justice system or individuals who are reentering the community after incarceration.
People who sign up for the program are matched with a case manager who will determine the services that they need. That may be training and/or employment opportunities through Career Links, or community services for mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment or domestic violence issues. Although some participants are mandated through county domestic relations programs, the majority are voluntary participants.
The Dads Matter team works with each one to develop an Individualized Education Employment Plan (IEEP) based on those needs and connects them to relevant supports.
Training is offered in financial literacy, relationship skills, self-care and self-awareness, the role of the father and other family members, and workforce development and training. The goal of the evidence based program is to directly benefit children by improving the dad’s status economically and socially.
Dads Matter is supported with federal funds from the Office of Family Systems. According to Brunetta, there are about 350 people currently participating. The PIC website states a goal of serving over 1,000 people over the next five years.
“All of our participants come in for group sessions with our evidence-based curriculum,” Brunetta said. “The case managers meet with them one-on-one, and the groups meet once or twice a week until they finish the curriculum. And we start new sessions every few weeks.”
The meetings include group discussions in addition to the educational focus.
“That’s really great because they learn from one another,” Brunetta said. “We talk openly about things that are going on in their lives and they can see how situations have evolved differently. Some are new fathers who are just beginning fathering, and some are grandfathers helping to raise their grandchildren and want to know what’s going on because they’ve been out of parenting for a while.”
The classes cover a variety of issues such as discipline, connecting to children, understanding the peer pressures that today’s children are exposed to and other topics that may arise.
“Towards the end of the classes, people are confronting each other and saying things like, ‘You’re the father and you need to see this or that,’” Brunetta said. “We’ve seen participants make a big turnaround. We’ve seen them get diplomas to finish high school, and go back to school and get a job and provide for their families. I’ve seen people realize that they haven’t been there for their kids, and that it’s time to take that step to be there.”
The program periodically brings families together with social events like the Father’s Day picnic.
“We get to see our fathers interact with their children with different games and crafts and making cards,” Brunetta said. “It melts your heart to know that they are there trying. They want to be involved. They want to be better fathers. I truly believe that this is an amazing program that has helped a lot of people, and there’s the potential to help a lot more.”
For information, contact PIC at 724-836-2600 or visit www.privateindustrycouncil.c om/work-force-development/ dads-matter.