Brawley resident Gerardo Aguilar has four daughters between the ages of 6 and 13 living in San Diego with their mother and said he “felt like dad was drifting away.”
However, after the past three weeks in the “Padres” project by the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program, the disconnect he felt between his daughters and himself is starting to fade and has been replaced by improved communication.
“This program has really put me back on track,” he said.
“Before, parenting was a challenge. Now it’s truly a pleasure. It’s going about parenting in a different way, different from how our parents taught us.”
Aguilar was recently laid off and saw a flier for the program while at the Brawley One-Stop. The divorced father said he’s learning skills to help communicate better with his daughters, cope with household issues and solve everyday problems that come up.
His daughters and he even won second place in a daddy-daughter dancing competition at the El Centro Children’s Fair last weekend.
“With decisions made and corners taken, the future is bright. I feel that every day I take these classes,” Aguilar said. “I’m excited, eager to be here.”
IVROP and the county’s Child Support Services agreed to collaborate in order to offer the program last fall after IVROP secured $4.8 million in grants over the next three years for both the “Padres” program as well as the “Juntos” program, which promotes healthy families.
Program classes began in December, IVROP Adult Development Specialist Mark Peres said, and the five curriculums within “Padres” include topics such as responsible parenting, healthy relationships and economic stability.
“It’s important to be there for a son or daughter. We want people to know that what we want to stress is that you’re a dad 24/7,” Peres said. “We all share our experiences and we share one thing in common, you want to be there for your kids.”
“Padres” participants must be 18 or older and meet low-income eligibility guidelines. They also must either be divorced or their wives or girlfriends don’t have an interest in doing the program.
Some just sign up for it on their own while others are in it on court orders, Peres said. How long it takes to complete depends on the student with some completing it within a month and a half and others taking up to three months. Gift cards called “incentive cards” are given to participants to encourage them to attend.
“We’re trying to educate dads of all ages,” Peres said. His class that met Thursday morning had one student that is 18 and another, Lawrence McKnight, who is 64.
“You’re never too old to learn. I learn from it,” McKnight said.
Sometimes the students use workbooks or role playing techniques, but a lot of the time it helps simply to let them vent on issues, Peres explained.
“I want them to feel like they can come here and say what they need to say,” he said.
Forty people from the 200 that go through the program may be eligible to participate in a paid 480-hour on-the-job training experience.
The classes at times end up being an eye-opener for some or a glimmer of hope for others, Peres said.
On Thursday morning, a circle of seven fathers discussed “trigger” words to avoid when speaking to others, stress management, as well as how alcohol use can affect their physical, mental and emotional health.
El Centro resident Mario Renteria worked for five years in San Diego and feels that the days when he was away from the home for as many as 14 hours a day caused deterioration in his relationships.
Now looking for work in the area, he said the program has given him a lot of positive tools to apply in his life as a father of three.
“It’s a better opportunity to try to change the negative things,” he said. “It’s going to help and change minds.”
“We’re constantly trying to show people there’s a lot of opportunity out there,” Peres added. “By coming to these classes and finishing, they show they want it.”
Call 760-482-2638 or visit www.ivrop.org for information on the “Padres” program.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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