The Middletown United Fathers were not happy with the way young men in their community were being treated.
“We don’t treat them the same,” Larry Owens, president of United Fathers, said of society’s treatment of boys.
“We tell them to toughen-up, man-up,” Owens said.
Middletown United Fathers Inc., started in 2008 after a Father's Day celebration held by eight men in the community. After this celebration the men realized how important it was for young men and boys to have fathers in their lives. They decided to start a group to help young men who were in need of good male role models.
An important step for the group took place this past December, when they got they tax exempt status, which allows them to operate as a charitable organization and accept donations. This was important for the expansion of their group and what they do to help youth.
The current board consists of Owens, Harold Hart, who is the secretary, and Kevin Woodard, Malik Pemberton and Larry Jenkins, who are representatives. Woodard is also acting as treasurer temporarily.
Owens helped United Fathers get started because he saw a real need for men to help youth in his community. Owens' own father died when he was very young and this helped him to understand how hard it can be for a boy to be raised without a father.
Owens has always been an active member of his community. When he was 20 he spoke at Wesleyan University on issues facing young men, specifically the need for education in all young adults' lives. He feels young men need a male figure in their lives to help bring them to manhood.
Harold Hart felt the same way. After the first Father's Day celebration, a gathering of 150 people, he and the others realized there was more they wanted and could do for their community.
“We all just wanted to do something,” Hart said, “we thought, maybe there are some other things we could get into.”
Every Monday the men go to Middletown High School for an hour and a half to speak to a selected group of kids about men’s issues, healthy relationships, goal-setting and more. The teenagers selected to hear the speech are seen as needing the help of the group discussions the most.
Owens stressed that they went in to meet the young men they would be working with and from there tried to develop programs that would help fix the problems. They wanted to identify these problems before they made a plan of action, in order to maximize results.
Many of the young men have not been told how important education is in their lives, Owens said. They need role models to tell them and show them how they can do well in school.
“We want parents to become a louder voice for their children,” Hart said.
The men try to coordinate with teachers and guidance counselors, giving each other feedback to better help the students. However, while United Fathers is happy to advocate for the young men, they want the youths to learn to advocate for themselves, Owens said.
For the past year the group has been working on an Academic Lifelong Learning team. This would be a focus group that chooses a teacher to help a specific student. It would also improve the communication between schools and parents, one of the key factors in helping kids, Owens said. The teachers of Middletown High School thought this was a great concept and the group is hoping to get this team started soon.
The United Fathers have also brought students to John Jay College in New York City to celebrate education, Owens said. The group wanted to give students the chance to see what college life is like and why education is so important.
“Just like we need to build strong bodies, we need to build strong minds,” Owens said.
The community, he added, has created a vicious cycle for some young men. Middletown has resources available, Owens said, but they are not always utilized. United Fathers wants to see even younger children being helped, like those in eighth grade.
“We need to start young and often,” Owens said.
This is why they do activities, such as the community gardening plots every year, to get children more involved in the community. Last year they had 15 garden plots, this year they are up to 30.
The Middletown United Fathers will have their fourth annual Father's Day Celebration at Donovan Park in Middletown on June 18 from noon to 6 p.m.
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