Supporting Young Fathers and the Community

Posted Wed Feb 16 2011 

imageWhen Noah Boakye-Yiadom moved to Canada at 15 from Ghana, one of the biggest culture shocks he experienced was the role of fathers and the community in raising children. Although his own father came to Canada seven years earlier, Noah never really felt a void.

He missed his dad, but, “Growing up in Africa, you don’t depend solely on your father to provide manly guidance. I was not short on father figures; you depend on the whole community to provide it. Without that community support, the lack of a father is much more palpable in Toronto.”

Young and Potential Fathers is born

Noah was so struck by this cultural shift that as part of his Master of Public Health degree at Lakehead University, he conducted a needs assessment and identified a large gap in services for fathers in the black community. The biggest issue was that there was no specific gathering place for young black men to meet for support and to access needed resources.

Armed with this information, he decided to take action. He successfully approached the Youth Challenge Fund with a funding proposal, and the Young and Potential Fathers (YPF) initiative was born.

This Afrocentric community program targets young black men in Toronto who are already fathers or are sexually active and could become fathers. The initiative has secured space at1901 Weston Road, #18 (Weston and Lawrence) to deliver programs targeting young black men and their children.

YMCA partnership

The Youth Challenge Fund put Noah in touch with new partners, including:

  • Brandon Hay of the Black Daddies Club
  • Paul “Kofi Sadat” Osbourne of Duakro Men
  • Community outreach workers and young fathers Benjamin DeGraff and Omar Brooks.

This group formed the working collective that would develop the YPF initiative.

After securing funding, the group realized they needed supports and mentorship on several levels, including organizational development. Enter the YMCA. The Y has a wealth of experience running parenting, early years and community-based programming that will support the cultural and gender frames that YPF wants to create.

The YMCA is serving in a mentorship capacity as YPF gets up and running. Noah and the group hope to eventually achieve charitable status, and are looking to the YMCA for guidance as they find their feet. Says Noah, “After we met with the YMCA, it felt like a great fit.”

A place to connect and grow

YPF’s primary goal was to create an appealing space for young fathers to drop in and feel comfortable. YPF will provide a fun and relaxed centre that puts an emphasis and value on Afrocentric culture.

Noah adds, “Part of our aspiration is to have a cultural foundation in our programming and everything we do. Whether it’s cooking classes or specific games for fathers and children to play, everything will be approached from an Afrocentric perspective. We want to promote and celebrate our collective heritage and let our participants know we’re all in this together.”

YPF’s fatherhood-oriented space is the first of its kind in North America. As they work towards their official naming ceremony for the space in March, Noah, newly hired director, Adelin Brunal, and his team are engaging the black fathers’ community to determine needs and programming priorities.

The primary goal is to make the YPF space welcoming and open. The standing rule: fathers must actively be engaged with their children while visiting the centre.

That, says Noah, is what makes him most proud. “Where your child is, that’s where [the fathers] are…[they] play with the children and engagement is hands on. Children practically have to be dragged out at the end of the day because they don’t want to leave. That’s what I treasure the most — that we’ve created a ‘home away from home.’”

Seeing the potential in everyone

Along with men who are already fathers, YPF is also a resource for black men who don’t have children. While many involved in the initiative are fathers, Noah and Omar Francis, 20-year-old co-chair of the steering committee, represent the “potential” aspect.

Noah defines the potential aspect of the program as “the potential to be great fathers and great role models in the community. We want to empower and strengthen the whole community, with no man left behind.”

Noah goes on to say, “It’s been a very beneficial journey for me, especially since I do play the father role now at times with the community. This will definitely be the place to go when I do have children. I’m in no rush to take on that responsibility, but it’s my goal down the road.”

He adds that working with YPF has broadened his understanding “not just of what fatherhood means, but what it means in the context of being of African heritage.” Through research, writing the proposal and creating the space, African cultural values have been essential elements of the development.

The challenge of reaching the community

Outreach is the biggest challenge YPF faces. They are hiring an outreach coordinator from the community, and are also working in concert with other community-based organizations to encourage referrals.

As YPF works toward its official opening in March, Noah and the team are striving to gain the trust of the community. “We want to make the biggest impact we can, but with quality rather than quantity. Our outreach will be very targeted.”

YPF’s primary goal is to be a place where fathers can easily and quickly access resources for their — and their children’s — needs, including:

  • Counselling
  • Moral support
  • Simply a positive place to be with their children

Accessibility is key. “Our hours of operation will be determined by community need. We want to fit in to the community, not make the community fit us,” says Noah.

Looking to the future

YPF aims to have services in French, and the group’s five-year goal is to have three locations available in the GTA. Noah says, “We want to be regarded as the leading centre for research and services for African men and African fathers. We also want to be a resource for other community organizations, not just the individuals we serve. We want to be a valued partner.”

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