Ask 25-year-old Sergio Hernandez how it feels to be a new dad and he is quick to respond “overall pretty amazing.”
His comments were made 16 days into the arrival of son Riley Hernandez and shortly after his own graduation from the Center for Human Development’s 16-week program, “Nurturing Fathers.”
“I knew what I wanted to work on and I found a group of guys who wanted to work on it with me,” said Hernandez of the program that was recommended to him by a friend.
“We were all going through different things around what kind of dad and man we wanted to be for our families.”
Hernandez lives in Chicopee with his son and Riley’s mom, Lauren Learned.
He credits the program’s participants with helping him eliminate the “take off and run away” mindset as a response to uncertainty and past relationship failures and finding in himself a way to “get to be the dad I want to be.”
“It was a diverse group and a place to dive right in. The guys shared all kinds of perspectives and we all talked about things equally that were heavy to all of us,” Hernandez said.
“It was really amazing from where I started in my understanding of me and my girlfriend having a child together and getting to change some things in me to be a nurturing father and boyfriend.”
Hernandez said he welcomed the fact that today such a group can exist for men.
“It makes it both easy and hard in terms of saying, ‘Let’s talk about it,'” Hernandez said.
“Men used to grunt if there was a problem and stomach it. Now men can vocalize about themselves and talk about feelings and what is bothering them. In my dad’s day this was a sign of weakness. Now men can sit down and talk about things.”
He added he liked the sense of hospitality and openness the sessions inspired.
“It was normal guys walking through the world together with no one there to be higher or put you down,” Hernandez said.
“I thought I was looking for something because I failed and I was looking for something to fix, but it was more about being someone who wants to consciously be a better person and being able to verbalize this and benefit from a little open conversation.”
He added, “We shared some deep-down experiences and hardships and tears.”
Program facilitator Steven Acevedo said being open to sharing and being positive are at the heart of the sessions.
Participants are often recruited through other programs operated by the CHD, whose services include sheltering families and helping the homeless find temporary and permanent homes.
“Change is the hardest thing to do in life as many people are set in their ways. I never approach someone with, ‘We are going to change you,’ because the response is, ‘I am a good father. I don’t need that,” Acevedo said.
“I like to approach with, ‘Don’t you want to be a better father? Come check out our program – and see how it fits for you. There are a lot of good people with a lot of good ideas. We need more positive men out there.'”
Acevedo added, “A lot of guys in the program are already fathers.”
“We tend to parent the way we were parented and rather than saying something is wrong I will say there are different ways of doing things and some outcomes are more positive than others.”
Acevedo, 40, will share some of his own parenting approaches – often narrated with humor – as a way to relate.
“I am 6-foot, 3-inches and 300 pounds with a six-year-old. How intimidating is that,” Acevedo said.
“So, when we talk, I told the guys, I get down on my knees to talk and it works. My son has a smile. The little things add up to the big things and make a bond.”
He added, “We all strive for love and connection with our children.”
“We all want to open lines of communication with them,” Acevedo said.
His words about the interaction of the participants and their goals were echoed by co-facilitator Josean Roldan, 34, and stepfather to three girls, 18, 17 and 16.
“I enjoy helping the men and learning from them. We grow a lot too as facilitators,” Roldan said.
“We meet all types of men with each group and hear about all types of experiences and perspectives on their lives.”
He said the process “has changed me as a man and a father and made be a better person.”
“It has made me more understanding, easier going. My father was as tough as nails. It was, ‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ and that is definitely not the right way. I took it to heart,” Roldan said.
“You can get caught up in the moment with kids and not think about what you say or do. I have learned to hold on and listen to my stepdaughters and not to react a certain way to their daily struggles. I have said to them you can tell me whatever you want and I will help you through it.”
Roldan sees a lot of positives in being “slow to react” and more oriented to “hearing what someone has to say.”
“My family was very strict and religious. I was never able to express myself as their reaction was, ‘We don’t want to hear what you have to say as you are a child and we are the parents,” Roldan said.
“I want my stepdaughters to feel they can come to me instead of someone else. I want the chance to guide them.”
Pedro Rodriguez, field operations manager for CHD, is proud of the men who graduate the program and would like it to become more known as a resource.
“It helps the men become better boyfriends and dads,” Rodriguez said.
“It is a wonderful program.”
Hernandez has changed his work schedule as a welder to second shift since the arrival of Riley to help at home and said the profession allowed him time to think about thinks discussed during the “Nurturing Father” sessions.
“I left each class with new ideas tumbling around in my mind,” Hernandez said.
“What guy couldn’t benefit from talking about what it means to be a man. It is an interesting topic to delve into for a few hours. We all walk around with negative and positive thoughts but it is really what you put out in the world – whether you act negatively or are more conscious about what you end up doing.”
The “Nurturing Fathers” program, which is presented in collaboration with the state’s housing and community development department, is tentatively expected to begin again mid-October. One group will meet Tuesdays from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and the second group Thursdays from 5 to 7:30 p.m.
Both groups meet at 368 Maple St in Holyoke.
The center is also open Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round for men to drop in and talk one-on-one with the program facilitators, play pool and sometimes hear a motivational speaker.
Article By Anne-Gerard Flynn, email@example.com, Special to The Republican. Article appeared on MassLive on 9/19/2018 at https://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2018/09/program_helps_nurture_dads_as_fathers_who_talk_about_feelings.html.
Roger Anderson, CSW, LICSW, a healthcare administrator with Behavioral Health Network, has volunteered on CHD’s Human Rights Committee since 1988. On June 20, 2018, Roger was recognized for his three decades of service—quite appropriately, during a meeting of the Human Rights Committee.
“Originally, I was interested in working on the Human Rights Committee because, in the kind of work we do, we have a lot of control over people’s lives,” said Anderson, who has more than 42 years of diverse professional experience as a clinical social worker and administrator. “The level of care available allows us to do a lot of good for people, but we have to be careful we don’t inadvertently or accidentally overuse it. The protective role of the Committee is to help ensure that in providing appropriate care we don’t take away something from a person that we don’t want taken and that shouldn’t be taken.”
CHD’s Human Rights Committee is an open, transparent and impartial review board that works to ensure the human rights of persons supported by CHD. The Committee is comprised entirely of volunteers who are not CHD employees and who have no monetary interest in the organization. Members serve the important role of protecting those in CHD’s care who may not have the intellectual or mental capacity to protect themselves. The seven-member Committee, which includes consumers, allied health professionals (such as Anderson), a nurse and two attorneys, can serve in a variety of roles, including adviser, advocate, investigator and change agent.
According to Anderson, there are many situations that may give rise to reviews by the Human Rights Committee. “Some people, for their own protection, need to have their activities restricted,” he said. “For example, someone at risk of wandering off in the middle of the night may need an alarm on their bedroom door to alert staff if they leave the room. Someone at risk of a medical emergency may need regular checks during the night, which necessitates invading their privacy to check in on them. Someone who has self-injurious behaviors may need to wear a protective device such as a helmet to prevent causing themselves harm. Someone who has Pica, an eating disorder, can’t have free access to food. We have to consider whether the need of the person to be protected and our obligation to keep them healthy and safe outweighs their access to a certain activity or to something like food.”
Another factor that members of the Committee may need to address is the dignity of taking risks. “If we keep people too safe,” said Anderson, “we limit their opportunity to learn and be fully functioning human beings. To keep people safe can involve a lot of motivations. We can seek to keep them safe because they deserve it or because if someone gets hurt there could be an investigation from funding agency which involves time and cost. But keeping someone safe can’t unnecessarily limit fun or personal growth by preventing them from participating in an activity just because it entails risk. If people are capable of making an informed decision about their behavior, there could also be a legal issue.”
As Anderson’s career has evolved over 30 years, his work on the Human Rights Committee has been a welcome constant. “It’s kept me kind of grounded and aware of the serious work that gets done with the people served by agencies such as CHD,” he said. “This has been especially true as I’ve gotten more involved in program administration and moved gradually farther from direct care. Working on the Committee is a good way to stay aware of the work that’s actually happening with people, and how difficult it can be. Over years I’ve found that we’re wading through more tedious administrative tasks, such as reviewing documents, but then there are times you can feel you have done something to make someone’s life better. CHD is in business to make lives better and the Committee is there to confirm that it’s the case. As a member, I get to step into a situation, learn about it, make an impact, and then step back. It can be interesting and rewarding work to have a positive impact on someone’s life.”
“My name is Jerome Jenkins. At age 19, I experienced my first mental breakdown. There was help when I needed it, and now I’m on the side of providing help to others.”
Jerome came to know CHD as a client receiving services to support his mental wellness. Today he shares his lived experience with CHD clients as an embedded Peer Mentor.
Now 31, Jerome recalled what it was like when he was first diagnosed with a mental health condition. “My mind was out of balance and I didn’t have a clue why. I was anxious, paranoid and incapable of functioning normally in the community. As a result, I was committed to a hospital. It was my first such experience and I felt captured. I felt the need to escape.”
Following treatment, Jerome was released from the hospital and prescribed medicine and counseling to help manage his mental health, but he remembers feeling stuck with life. “I was no longer the strong, creative, fun person that my family and friends knew me to be,” he said. “I had become mentally weak, physically weak. I was incapable of working at my job in a home improvement store. I would avoid the customers, hide in my car, and hide in employee bathrooms. When my employer found out, I was fired. Then for two or three years I wouldn’t leave my mother’s basement. I put limits on myself and wouldn’t do things a person my age would normally do. It was a ‘Why me?’ type situation.”
Through a referral, Jerome was introduced to CHD and Candace Pennington, Program Manager for CHD Adult Mental Health/Springfield. “It was a blessing,” said Jerome. “Candy listened to what I wanted to accomplish in my life and was supportive of my goals and dreams. I remember that she laughed at my jokes! She didn’t treat me like a mental health patient.”
“Seeing how far Jerome has come makes me feel good about what I do,” said Candace. “Jerome came back to CHD to work for us at the time when the peer model was a new idea.”
The peer model concept is simple: people with lived experience of a given condition are uniquely positioned to provide support and guidance to others experiencing that condition. Because they’ve ‘been there’ and made substantial progress, they can help others to make progress in living successfully. In his role as an embedded Peer Mentor working at CHD Bonnyview House in Springfield, Jerome uses his lived experience to help clients see a way forward in managing their mental wellness.
“I work in a CHD residential program that assists people in their individual journey by being supportive of their goals,” Jerome explained. “We talk a lot about goals. I share things I’m doing in my life that maybe the clients can take on in their lives as well. We talk about how they should handle things, like relationships. We also do bonding activities, like playing basketball and eating together, to help us build a genuine relationship with the clients.”
Jerome continues to see a therapist and he’s doing well. Soon he will complete his Associate’s degree in Business Entrepreneurship at STCC. In a field study class, he connected with a mentor in music production who has taken him under his wing. He is looking for a second mentor to help with business.
“I want to work behind the scenes in the music business,” he explained. “My goal is to build a business by using social media to make impressions on a large number of people, start an e-commerce store, and get a music studio to do sound engineering.”
What advice does Jerome offer for young adults who aren’t completely comfortable with their own mental health? “It’s important to feel comfortable getting help that you need it, so when your emotional wellness isn’t right, ask for help. You should never be embarrassed to get help. Ask CHD. There was help for me when I needed it. And now I’m on the side of providing that help to others.”
National Alcohol Screening Day, an initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is an annual event to increase public awareness that alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency (alcoholism) are recognized disorders which can be treated. To support public awareness of this event, CHD is encouraging anyone concerned about alcohol abuse—either their own or that of a loved one—to take a free, anonymous alcohol screening.
The screening offers one version for the general public and specialized versions for college students and members of the military, which are two demographic groups at higher-than-average risk for problems with alcohol use.
“The alcohol screening is a useful tool for self-evaluation,” said Kimberley A. Lee, VP of Development for CHD. “It is completely anonymous so it is not saved or sent to any organization, but if you are concerned with the results and want to talk, you can call 844-CHD-HELP. Our team is prepared to help persons dealing with alcohol problems by guiding them to appropriate supports such as counseling and addiction recovery services.”
According to NIH, alcohol abuse can lead to many recognized health problems, such as anxiety and depression, as well as problems with relationships, performance at work, and dangerous behaviors including drunk driving. When alcohol abuse occurs over a longer period of time, risk increases for developing certain cancers, liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure and heart problems.