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‘Your Life Isn’t Over,’ Ansonia Man Tells Teen Dads
by Jodie Mozdzer Gil | Feb 7, 2011 6:49 pm
Giovanni Torres was 16 when he found out his 16-year-old girlfriend was pregnant.
Torres panicked. He became depressed. His grades dropped.
“I was just so scared,” Torres said recently at the office of the Greater Bridgeport Area Prevention Program in Bridgeport, where he is a member of the Teen Fathers Program.
Now 17, Torres is actively involved with his 8-month-old son Julian. He’s working and looking forward to graduating from Central High School in Bridgeport.
Torres said he owes his turnaround to the teen fathers program, run by Ansonia resident Saleh Hanaif.
“Before, I didn’t care what I did,” Torres said. “(The program is) making you feel like your life isn’t over. This is just the beginning.”
Teen Fathers Program
The Greater Bridgeport Area Prevention Program began offering the teen fathers program four years ago, when it received a federal grant to hire Hanaif as the coordinator.
Hanaif, a New York native, said there was a teen father program in Bridgeport since the 1980s, but it had become inactive in the recent years before GBAPP took it over.
Hanaif’s program now has 30 young men, who meet at various Bridgeport high schools each week to talk about what to expect from pregnancy, having a newborn, and raising a child. Since it was formed four years ago, about 120 young men have come through the program, Hanaif said.
Last week, the Fatherhood Initiative of Connecticut added Hanaif’s program to its list of certified fatherhood programs.
The certification “is a way to recognize fatherhood programs that have demonstrated exemplary practice in serving fathers and families,” according to the Fatherhood Initiative of Connecticut certification information.
The GBAPP program is the only teen father’s program on the list, he said.
“It means we’re doing quality work,” Hanaif said.
The program works in two ways: The meetings are classes to educate the fathers on how to raise their new children. Click play on the video to hear members of the group talk about its impact.
And, the teen fathers develop a support network, where they talk about their frustrations and help each other get through the problems they face.
“Since the day I started, he taught us to how to stay calm about the situation,” Torres said. “How to deal with it better.”
Hanaif said he can see the impact the program has on the children — but also on the teen fathers, who often turn around their lives to become active with their children.
“I had some guys who were selling (drugs),” Hanaif said. “When they found out they were going to have a baby, it became about how they could sell more (to help pay). We talk about good decision making. If you’re in jail, can you really help?”
Hanaif hands out calendars for the fathers to keep track of their child’s progress.
The young men get brochures that highlight tips on cleaning, feeding and reading to children. They learn about finances.
The group reads “The Pact,” a book written by three men who grew up in Newark, N.J., and made a pact to stick together, graduate college and become doctors.
Hanaif’s teen fathers group met the authors, Sampson Davis, Rameck Hunt and George Jenkins — known as “The Three Doctors” — last year.
“We collaborate with people in the community,” Hanaif said.
The real-life stories “let you know you’re not alone in this,” Torres said. ““Everybody is here to help you.”
Costs of Missing Fathers
Hanaif called the teen father group a “prevention program.”
Instead of investing money helping absent fathers become active, Hanaif said the program works to prevent fathers from every becoming absent in the first place.
He points to studies — including a recent report by the National Fatherhood Initiative — that suggest children in fatherless homes are more likely to grow up poor, get arrested and do poorly in school.
“There’s studies out there the guys really look at and say ‘I don’t want my son or daughter to do bad,’” Hanaif said.
The National Fatherhood Initiative released a report in 2008 that calculated the direct costs of fatherless homes at $99.8 billion. That includes federal payments to 13 benefits programs — such as food and housing programs — to single mother households, and the cost of enforcement of child support payments.
The full report is posted at the end of this article.
“While the cost of father absence estimated in this paper is high, it is only a fraction of the total cost to the government, and an even smaller fraction of the total cost to society,” the report states.
Hanaif said since the program has launched, he has consulted with groups in Norwalk and New York that want to start similar programs. Hanaif said he sees a need in his hometown — Ansonia — for something similar. Torres agreed, saying he has friends in Ansonia who are new teen fathers, who ask him for advice.
“I believe it’s needed everywhere,” Hanaif said.
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