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Helping single dads stay engaged with kids

By EMMA GOSALEZ

egosalvez@lockhaven.com

BELLEFONTE — Dads in Centre County now have a resource to help them ensure they stay engaged in their children’s lives after separation or divorce.

On Aug. 1, the Dads’ Resource Center opened its “doors” to the public. The Centre County-based website provides a handful of resources to fathers living in separated family situations.

“At our heart, we’re a children’s advocacy organization,” said Executive Director Jeff Steiner. “The means to the end is to help support fathers. We all know by what we see in our lives and around us and it’s also proven by studies: children develop best and have greater success in life when they have the engaged involvement of both parents in their life.”

Steiner said that he and Joel Myers, founder and chairman of the board, recognized that there was a void for local services that help single fathers.

The website has been designed to help fathers understand early in the separation stage the processes that separated families go through. Steiner said it offers a lot of information that will be beneficial as the fathers navigate human services and the legal system.

Steiner is certainly no stranger to lending a helping hand in the area, especially when it comes to helping families.

For the past 15 years, Steiner has served as a manager of various nonprofit organizations in Centre County. He said that he also served as executive director for the Bellefonte Family Resource Center and Kicks 4 Kids charity soccer tournaments, which raise money for organizations that benefit disadvantaged youth. For 10 years, Steiner worked as a family counselor for Family Intervention Crisis Services in Centre County.

Steiner said that the purpose of the resource center is to ensure that any father who is willing to take on all aspects of the responsibility of fatherhood after a separation –financially, in terms of involvement and engagement in their children’s lives, and engaging in a good relationship with the mother — has the capacity to do so.

The idea for the center took root a few years ago, according to Myers, who is founder and president of AccuWeather. Two years ago, Myers established the Dads’ Resource Center as a nonprofit and brought Steiner on board in January 2017 to bring the idea to life.

Even before the idea was formed, Myers observed that a lot of prejudice existed around fathers in separated family situations and generalization tended to occur about “deadbeat dads.”

“Many times, the father doesn’t get a fair chance to play an important role in the children’s lives,” Myers said. “It may be because they don’t know how to do it, they may not be encouraged to, they may be isolated.”

Myers explained that the purpose of the center is to be educational, that it does not serve as a fathers’ rights organization.

“There’s a women’s resource center here in Centre County, but there’s no comparable group for fathers to get some input, advice, and so on, and that’s what the purpose of this is,” he said.

Currently, Steiner is working on creating a network of fathers so that they can have their own support system. Through this, Steiner explained that fathers will be able to share their stories, give advice and let other fathers know what has worked for them and what has not.

Steiner and Myers hope to have a physical location for the center eventually. In addition, Steiner said that they would ideally like to have the resources to provide some legal representation for fathers who are unable to provide that on their own.

The ultimate goal is that the center will become a model that can be brought to surrounding counties, such as Blair, Clinton and Mifflin, and eventually be offered statewide and nationally, Steiner said.

Within the county human services community, Steiner said the folks also see the void that existed before the Dads’ Resource Center came to fruition.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I started this, but I’ve been very pleased with the reaction. There’s been almost 100 percent acceptance, support and appreciation,” Myers said.

One organization in particular that has supported the Dads’ Resource Center is the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC), which was established in 1975.

“I think it’s a nice addition,” said Anne Ard, CCWRC executive director. “It’s hard to be a parent, it’s challenging and I think it’s particularly difficult when there’s a lot of stress with divorce or death in the family and to find yourself suddenly being a single parent. I think any resource that helps parents do that more effectively is helpful,” said Anne Ard, executive director of CCWRC.

Steiner came to Ard early on for input on the new organization, and Ard said his vision and approach really made sense and was reasonable. He also went to the Centre County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force to get feedback on the website.

“I think all of our goals are to have healthier families, even when those families are not together,” Ard said.

The Dads’ Resource Center can be visited at www.dadsrc.org. The website covers a variety of issues, including the importance of fatherhood, custody, mediation, domestic violence and protection from abuse orders, and co-parenting tips for divorced parents.

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