Dr. Hershel Swinger, Senior Vice President Children's Institute, Inc. and Founder of Project Fatherhood.
3rd Annual "Fatherhood Solution" Conference June 18th
By Janet Alston JacksonContributing Writer
Thousands of children have experienced a special bonding with their dads because of one man, the father and founder of Project Fatherhood. He is a tall, stately, gray-bearded man who is a visionary.
Dr. Hershel Swinger, Senior Vice President, Children's Institute, Inc., saw a need to give fathers, of high-risk children, the tools to actively participate in the rearing and well-being of their children, and in 1996 Project Fatherhood was born. Through therapy, support, parenting education and other services, fathers learn to be more loving, responsible parents.
"Studies have shown, without their dads, children are five times more likely to be poor, three times more likely to use drugs, and two times more likely to be incarcerated," says Dr. Swinger. "The statistics are clear. Children need their fathers."
The Children's Institute, Inc., is sponsoring Project Fatherhood's third annual "Fatherhood Solution" Conference, Friday, June 18th, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., at the Radisson Westside Hotel in Culver City.
Experts are coming together to examine the field of fatherhood from different disciplines and perspectives including; intergenerational crime and incarceration; the immigrant cultural experience; military involvement; gang members; media myths; the developmentally disabled; employment and economic security; the role of the church; and post prison re-entry.
Featured are nationally recognized leaders who will address the most timely and topical issues related to strengthening relationships between fathers and their at-risk children in today's times. Speakers include: Ramon C. Cortines, the Superintendent of the Los Angeles United School District; Marvin J. Southard, the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; and Darryl S. Inaba, Director of Education and Training CNS Productions, Inc., one of the foremost authorities on addiction and recovery.
The one-day Conference is open to all those concerned with the lives of children, from professionals in mental health, social service, education, and law enforcement communities, to members of the general public. Today's headlines concerning fathers are the focus, especially raising children while facing economic challenges.
"I believe to bring fathers to the table, so to speak, while decisions are being made about children and families under stress, really is addressing a problem that has needed attention for a long time," says Dr Swinger. "I think we are realizing that the way unemployment is today, school dropouts, and gang violence, we are beginning to accept the idea, that programs which get dads involved are part of a solution. We have been doing this long enough now, that we are offering different examples of family involvement, and how well it has worked."
Superintendent Cortines is this year's keynote speaker. Education is a key component to Project Fatherhood which encourages fathers to attend PTA and teacher-parent conferences as well as volunteer. "Schools are the second family, the second leg of who really raises children," says Dr. Swinger. "That's the community that a child grows up in and they are a major influence on children. In Project Fatherhood, we have fathers involved in their children's education. We think it is extremely important from the beginning, all the way to the end of their education."
For over a decade, Project Fatherhood, through the Children's Institute, Inc., has worked with at-risk families to foster and strengthen relationships between fathers and their children. The program provides a unique support program for low-income, culturally diverse biological fathers, helping children to grow up safe and healthy and to become productive adults.
Today 50 agencies are trained in the program's model, including the Pukuu, a non-profit charitable organization established by the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, which provides cultural community services for low-income American Indian families.
Many credit the remarkable success behind Project Fatherhood to the vision and guiding force of Dr. Swinger. Fathers and employees alike feel Swinger's empathetic, non-judgmental style and understanding, is one of the reasons why the program is thriving, and helping men from all walks of life and cultures to become responsible, engaged fathers.
"Dr. Swinger is the Father of Fatherhood," says Susan Cuscuna. "After many of the men leave the program, they come back to see him and a few even work for Project Fatherhood. They all talk about how much the program has helped them and their children."
Dr. Swinger, father of two grown children, is admired for his ability to see and bring out the best in people. He makes them feel good about themselves. Dr. Ronald Banks, Director of Project Fatherhood, and Clinical Supervisor who for years has worked closely with Dr. Swinger, has witnessed the most hard-hearted men transform in the program.
"Years before Project Fatherhood was started, Dr. Swinger was a therapist for the Children's Institute when a man we'll call Anthony, was referred to the Institute's parenting classes because his son 'had issues'," says Dr. Banks. "Everyone was intimidated by Anthony, who was the heavyweight champion at the Folsom State Prison. He had been in and out of prisons and institutions his entire life. People were afraid of him. Dr. Swinger was told that he had to take the case. He did, and was able to see through Anthony's tough exterior, and successfully worked with him. Anthony later transitioned into the Fatherhood Project."
"One day Anthony shared with the group that he had never hugged his kids or told them he loved them, before working with Dr. Swinger and attending Project Fatherhood," says Dr. Banks. "He had tears streaming down his face as he told us the story. Anthony said he used to feel that he couldn't let people see his gentler side before getting into the program."
When Anthony met a lady, who had a stellar reputation, they married. The couple later wanted to become foster parents.
"Dr. Swinger went out on a limb for Anthony, who had turned his life around. He sincerely wanted an opportunity to help children because his childhood was so rough," says Dr. Banks, who remembers Dr. Swinger saying 'Nobody would have given a dime for Anthony's future.' "The average person wouldn't have helped this type of man," says Banks. "But, Dr. Swinger did. That's the type of person he is. Anthony and his wife successfully raised 16 foster children together, before he recently passed away."
Over his career, Dr. Swinger has long observed that fathers like Anthony were most often left out of programs designed to strengthen troubled low-income urban families and prevent child abuse and neglect. But he firmly believes that fathers want what is best for their kids, which is why he founded Project Fatherhood.
"I believe that all fathers have the same job description," says Dr. Swinger. "If you are a father, you are a father first, over anything and everything else. If you are in jail you are still a father. If you are the president, you are still a father. If you're a doctor, you are still a father. To bring men, families and cultures around to the idea that fathers need to take the responsibility for their children, and not leave it to social workers, police or school teachers, means so much to children and families."
The father of Project Fatherhood is leading by example.
Janet Alston Jackson
ONLINE AT WWW.CHILDRENSINSTITUTE.ORGCALL 213 385-5100, EXT. 1884
Radisson Hotel6161 W. Centinela Ave.Culver City, CA 90230
$85.00 (add $25.00 for continuing education)
Friday, June 18, 2010 | 8:30 am - 5:30 p.m.
Radisson Los Angeles Westside Hotel
Session 10:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Doing Time: Preventing IntergenerationalÂ Crime and Incarceration
Culture Shock: Immigrant Fathers AmidÂ Cultural Change
Fathers in the Military
Session 1:45 p.m.-3:15 p.m.
Turning Point: Gang Members as Fathers
Reel Dads: The Father Figure in Cinema
Challenged: Developmentally DisabledÂ Fathers and Their Children
Session Â 3:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Getting to Work: Fatherhood, EmploymentÂ and Economic Stability
Faith of Our Fathers: The Church's Role inÂ Fatherhood
Back on Track: Skills to Help IncarceratedÂ Men Re-entering Society