Watch now: Bloomington-Regular teams provide help, a voice for fathers | Native Information
BLOOMINGTON — David Lewis reassured his son, CJ, that he’d be there to support him after CJ lost his baseball scholarship at the University of Toledo at the end of last season.
“Because of our relationship, I told him whatever happens, dude, we’ve got you,” David Lewis said.
CJ came home to Bloomington about three weeks ago, devastated that the baseball coach had pulled his scholarship despite pitching well in limited appearances.
But within the past three weeks, CJ has joined the Burlington Bees, of the independent baseball Prospect League, which also features the Normal Cornbelters. He also has entered the college transfer portal and has already received immense feedback from colleges across the country.
“Our relationship has led him to being able to deal with disappointment, because it’s a part of life and it’s also helped him to know that when you fall, which you will, you can always come home,” said David Lewis.
David Lewis also has taken on a new role since May, as group facilitator for Dads Uplifting Dads, a program within the Children’s Home and Aid organization that meets virtually each Thursday evening.
The group program, which any father can participate in, re-launched in May as it shifted facilitators. About five to 10 people who call into the weekly meeting typically set the direction of the conversations.
This past week’s meeting covered relationship building, empowerment and the role of fathers.
“I’m not a clinician or a specialist,” David Lewis said. “I’m just a guy who feels that being a father is the best and most important job a guy can have, and that’s my expertise when it comes to this (facilitating Dads Uplifting Dads).”
In celebration of Father’s Day, group members of all fatherhood programs in Children’s Home and Aid were gifted a book titled, “I Love When Daddy Reads to Me.”
“It’s kind of funny, but a lot of times people make a big deal about Mother’s Day, and rightly so, but Father’s Day often doesn’t get that same attention, especially in social service programming,” said Earl Kloppmann, program manager for Children’s Home and Aid.
“So, we are using Father’s Day as an opportunity to talk about how important fathers are and to let them know that we want to support them in every way that we can,” Kloppmann said.
A focus on fathers
Dads Uplifting Dads is just one of several father-focused programs under Children’s Home and Aid. It derived from the McLean County Fatherhood Coalition, which Kloppmann said was one of the first of such coalitions in Illinois and is “probably the most effective to date.”
“The goal of the coalition is to bring the community together — all of the different sectors of the community together around the importance of fathers, and how can we listen to the voices of fathers, how can we determine their needs and how can we best come alongside them and support them,” Kloppmann said.
Other fatherhood-focused programs under Children’s Home and Aid include Thriving Fathers and Families, Building a Winning Team and fatherhood skill-building workshops.
Launched in May 2021, Thriving Fathers and Families is a six-month virtual program that provides fathers with free information about job preparation and placement, child support and custody, family building activities, parenting and co-parenting classes and personal growth.
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Building a Winning Team, which also was birthed through the McLean County Fatherhood Coalition, is a seven-week virtual workshop for mothers “to help them understand and communicate more effectively with the fathers of their children,” Kloppmann said.
“We value moms and the vital work they do in raising children,” he added. “We also look for ways to support and strengthen them in their relationship with their children’s fathers.”
Group leaders have strongly emphasized the need of a support system for children to succeed in life.
‘I found the support I needed’
Gregory Cox, the Cook County Fatherhood Coalition coordinator who also leads virtual fatherhood skills workshops, played a video Wednesday during a Children’s Home and Aid Father’s Day breakfast in Bloomington to illustrate the importance of support in one’s life.
The video showed a young girl lose her shoe at the start of a track race and then go back to pick it up and nevertheless win the race.
“I’ve seen that clip several times and I wanted to use it as a drop back for what type of message it would be,” Cox said. “Have you checked your shoelace? Is your shoe tied? Is it tight enough?”
He wasn’t talking about shoe laces. Cox said the shoe acted as support for the young girl to keep going.
“She went back to get the shoe. She could’ve stopped and said it’s too late, they’re way ahead of me,” Cox said.
Cox grew up in Chicago with parents and siblings who were addicted to drugs, so he also began using drugs. He eventually had nine sons, but his drug addiction continued to where he found that he was neglectful of his parental responsibility and he lost custody of his children.
Cox said his life changed when his son, who still lived nearby, came up to him on the street one day on his way to school and asked his dad for money.
“I had it, but to someone who’s an alcoholic and a drug addict, the sound of some change is the sound of the next bag of dope, and I told him no,” Cox said.
His son walked away with his head down after his father denied giving him money.
“My son walked away disappointed because I didn’t give him money,” Cox said. “I walked away disappointed because I wasn’t the father I had always wanted to be, that I had become the father that I had seen.”
Cox checked himself into a treatent program a few weeks after that interaction and he later reunited with his sons.
“I found the support that I needed,” Cox said.
People may contact Kloppmann at [email protected] for more information about joining the McLean County Fatherhood Coalition and the programs it involves. Anyone interested in participating in the Dads Uplifting Dads weekly session may contact David Lewis at [email protected].
Kloppmann said the organization is creating an online fatherhood hub where anyone will be able to find all programs available in McLean County, and who to contact to get involved.
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