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Monica Foster of The Skanner
Published: 19 December 2007

When FRESH Start Director Shawn Benning was working as one of the teachers for the child care Head Start program, he found some problems. He noticed there was a lack of fathers involved in their children's lives and the educational system, and he felt First A.M.E. needed to create a fatherhood program that encouraged that involvement.
Thus, the First A.M.E. Child and Family Center's FRESH Start program "The Men's Workshop," was born.
"The Men's Workshop," aims to improve low income fathers' parenting skills and involvement in their children's lives. The program, which began in March, offers men the opportunity to learn valuable parenting skills and practices. It also offers counseling, mentoring and mediation as well as domestic violence and child abuse prevention classes.
FRESH Start classes are free and participation is voluntary for the entire 13-week class. The next parenting class begins Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008. The classes/support groups are held weekly from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings at First A.M.E. Child Development Center, 3700 S. Genesee St.
FRESH Start stands for "Fatherhood, Responsibility, Engagement & Services in Head Start." The program combines four strategies to work effectively with low-income fathers and other community organizations that serve the same target population. These strategies support fathers through Head Start's enrollment process to identify strengths, challenges and to set goals; reach fathers through father-child social activities; enhance fathers' development through workshops and support groups; and collaborate with community organizations to provide a network of high quality services specifically designed for fathers and their families.
FRESH Start's goals are to increase the number of low income fathers involved in their child's education; enhance responsible parenting skills, improve advocacy, leadership and financials skills of fathers and encourage fathers to attend ESL classes and job training. 
Classes touch on a number of subjects and topics relevant to fathers including your rights as a parent, child support issues and working with the justice system.
"We talk about your rights as a parent and bring in attorneys to talk to the men, as well as people from the child support system because a number of fathers we work with have child support issues, especially if they've been in prison, so we try to help them navigate that system," said John Manning, FRESH Start's fatherhood advocate. "We help them be responsive and responsible and help them work with the system to help minimize the issue or issues they have."
Last November, a five-year grant of $250,000 was awarded by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and made available in February to provide funding for the FRESH Start program.
All men are welcome to attend the classes including fathers, grandfathers, uncles, big brothers, or significant others involved in the child's life. Men from low-income homes who have children enrolled in any of the five Head Start or Early Head Start Programs and low-income fathers who live in the communities served by Head Start Programs are especially encouraged to attend.
"Anybody can participate, it's not limited to Head Start but we're trying to work with families to empower them to take control in what's going on in their lives," Manning said. "We work with people to educate them on how to work with systems, the justice system, the school system, or the family services system, whatever system they have to navigate we will give you the tools you need to work with those systems."
The free classes also offer father-child field trips to places such as the Sonics games and going to the trout farm for fishing, workshops, father-son lunches, group discussions, a summer retreat and group support. A light dinner and childcare is also provided.
"We encourage fathers to get involved in all aspects of their children lives, know their kids friends, be engaging and listen to them," Manning said. "No matter what the relationship is with the mother or father, it's important you have some semblance of peace for the child's sake in order to have for them to have a better outlook on life. The issue is not you as a father as so much it is the child themselves, and putting aside your anger and frustration and disappointment to enhance a child's life."
Manning said one of the things they are currently doing next month is a "Reading Time with Dad," encouraging fathers to come and read to their children in the classroom.
Manning said they work with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to reach out to fathers that have been relocated to Washington State due to the Gulf Coast storms Hurricane Katrina and Rita; and domestic violence organizations provide men with treatment they may need and the Neighborhood House's Head Start program. They also worked with the Powerful Families series on a 9-week class on literacy, community and family advocacy, and leadership.
"We encourage their staff to make their environment father friendly and welcoming so they (the men) can feel like they can have services as well," Manning said. "Most Head Start programs should be a family environment and they make it more mother friendly as opposed to father friendly, so we can help to educate and change the mindset of the organizations we work with as well."
For more information or to sign up, call 206-322-9600 ext. 13; email [email protected] or just show up any Thursday night.

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