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How a Williamsburg program helps dads be successful parents

For nearly two decades, Fatherhood F.I.R.E. has encouraged fathers to be engaged and present in their children's lives and provided dads with a framework to thrive.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — A group is helping men forge a new path for fatherhood.

The Fatherhood F.I.R.E. program is based in Williamsburg but supports dads throughout Hampton Roads.

"[F.I.R.E. stands for] family-focused, interconnected, resilient, and essential," Project Director Oliver Walmon said. "It stands for what we want our fathers to be."

Men join the program to strengthen their role as fathers, but Walmon said they often make brother-like connections with each other.

"We have fathers that come from all walks of life," Walmon said. "When they get here, they realize that there's a sense of comradery."

Fatherhood F.I.R.E. is run through the nonprofit Child Development Resources.

"We're federally funded under the Administration for Children and Families," Walmon said. "And it's through an initiative called the National Fatherhood Initiative."

Walmon said since 2006, the program has supported more than 700 fathers and father figures across Hampton Roads.

"Yearly, we try to get at least 150 fathers. That's our goal," Walmon said. "But our goal for the future is unlimited."

Senior Fatherhood Specialist Charles Springer said the program holds free workshops like 24/7 Dads.

"It's a support group for dads," Springer said. "It basically runs the whole gamut of what it means to be a father through the lens of the father."

Springer said about 65 to 70% of the fathers in the program are court-ordered to be there and are often disengaged when they arrive. 

But after one or two workshop sessions, Springer said those fathers begin to connect with others in the program and tend to open up.

Fatherhood F.I.R.E. also has a workshop for soon-to-be fathers called Rookie Dads.

"We take guys who are expecting through diapering and swaddling and feeding and burping and bathing, and also their relationship with their partner," Springer said.

There's even an alumni group called Legacy Dads, which Springer said also helps the program with recruitment efforts in the community.

Emmanuel Eclou went through the program before joining the Fatherhood F.I.R.E. team as a fatherhood specialist.

"Learning from other dads, sharing stories, it became like a brotherhood group," Eclou said. "I'm the facilitator, but basically, I'm taking so much from it, too. And it makes me, like, a better father."

Other free services in areas like finance, housing, and employment empower fathers to reach their goals and become the best parents they can be.

"Until we actually sit up there and not worry about a father's past," Walmon said, "What we're trying to do is get them present in their children's lives so they could go to the future."

Fatherhood F.I.R.E. is open to all dads with children up to 24 years old. To learn more, visit the program’s website, call 757-345-3180, or text 757-561-4174.

You can also check out Fatherhood F.I.R.E. at the Children's Festival of Friends on Saturday, May 6th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Newport News Park.

Fatherhood F.I.R.E. will hold the Legacy Dads Mini-Golf Championship on June 8th and the Fatherhood F.I.R.E. Festival Cookout on June 10th. 

You can also follow the program on Facebook and Instagram for event updates.

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