BY Stephanie Garibay
East Los Angeles College along with the Tree of Wellness and the Boys and Girls Club held a Fatherhood and Family Conference on Saturday to acknowledge the hard work of fathers and father-figures.
The conference welcomed back a program called Con Los Padres.
CLP was a 16-week-course that taught teen fathers how to become better dads and the importance of being involved in their child’s life.
The program originally started in 1995, but due to lack of funding, it couldn’t continue with its initial goal.
“When September 11 happened in 2001, we lost a lot of our funding because a lot of that money was going to national security. Which is understandable, but you have to take care of your people too,” former CLP coordinator Bobby Lee Verdugo said.
Although the program was at a halt from 2001 until now, the mentors still went out to help the community, not only focusing on teen fathers but teen mothers and pregnancy prevention.
“We would go to hospitals and work with the dads there and while we would do that a lot of the nurses would tell us‘,Well can you work with the moms as well,’ so we did,” Verdugo said.
Keynote speakers included Verdugo, Ricardo Lopez, who was one of the mentors for CLP, and Jerry Tello, a nationally recognized expert on fatherhood and family strengthening and one of the founders of CLP.
“A lot of the young dads I worked with at the time would ask me’,how are you going to help me? You’re not a dad’ and I thought yeah that’s true, so I said to them ‘I will lead by example,’ and it worked. I built great relationships with them,” Lopez said.
Lopez, Tello and Verdugo are now working in conjunction with ELAC to help bring back the courses for young fathers and have some of the classes held at ELAC.
Since a lot of programs were offered to help teen mothers, Verdugo, Lopez and Tello wanted to shift the focus and shine light on the fathers who wanted to be involved in their child’s life.
“It’s important for little girls to have their mom to teach them how to be a woman, but it’s also important for boys to have their father to teach them how to be a man,” Verdugo said.
In the 16-week course, the young fathers would gather around in a circle and would share their stories and what they wanted to get out of the course.
“Some of the dads would be too shy to say their story. But one day a father named Angel joined the program and shared his story. He said‘,my name is Angel, I’m 16-years-old and I have a 4-year old daughter. I became a father at the age of 12. Since I can’t provide for my daughter financially, I have been cut off from her life completely and I’ve only been able to hold her twice in her life. I just need help, I want to be back in her life.’ After Angel said his story all the dads felt more comfortable to share theirs,” Verdugo said.
The program helped Angel try to gain custody of his daughter back, but every plan failed since Angel was not able to provide child support. Since the program was only 16 weeks long, Angel lost contact with the mentors and it was never known whether he gained any rights to his daughter.
“The last I heard he was trying to get in contact with me, so I hope that means he gained some type of custody,” Verdugo said.
When Lopez started mentoring the young dads, he was not yet a father himself, but in teaching them he learned valuable lessons.
“It’s funny how the tables turned and when I became a father 10 years later. I would call them and say ‘,My son is crying, what do I do?’,” Lopez said.
Although Tello was not a teen dad, he lost his father at the age of 13 and understood the importance of a father figure in a child’s life.
“I learned so much of how to be a man from my dad,” Tello said.
Tello’s father raised his children with tough love, which in turn taught Tello to use an opposite approach and teach young fathers that love and respect is something vital in treating their children.
“I never understood the lessons my dad taught me until he passed away. In working with the young dads in a way, it brought back mine,” Tello said.
Tello showed a video of the program in 1995, and the young fathers involved.
One of the fathers shown in the video was Richard Pacheco.
Pacheco spoke about how important it was for him to be involved in his son’s life and the stereotypes that came with being a single dad.
“I remember taking my son to the mall one day and he was in a stroller. We walked into the store and one of the employees said to me’,Oh, how cute, you’re babysitting your son, and I said I’m sorry to break your stereotype, but I actually have full custody of my son. His mother is not involved in his life.’ It frustrated me,” Pacheco said.
“I think without the program everything would have been a lot more difficult for me. The program helped me out a lot,” Pacheco said.