Fatherhood Groups Aim to Make Men ‘Secure Within Themselves’

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Although around since 1994, the D.C.-based National Practitioner's Network for Fathers and Families (NPNFF) is just beginning to hit its stride as a major player in the nation's fatherhood movement.

From a humble beginning of 30 representatives of community-based fatherhood programs, the network has mushroomed to represent more than 200 member agencies. "Over the years, we've increased the identity of practitioners in the field and have become a growing force in formulating and pushing public policy initiatives," says NPNFF Executive Director Preston Garrison.

"We started out in 1994 as a result of Vice President Gore's Family Reunion Conference Initiative," Garrison recalls.  Its breakthrough year was 1997, when the ubiquitous Ford Foundation designated it as the coordinating arm for its Strengthening Fragile Families initiative. For a time (ending last September) the NPNFF resided at the offices of the National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership, whose flagship program is Partners for Fragile Families: Focus on Fathers. Ford supports NPNFF in an extensive membership recruitment program.

The network is pursuing two other efforts, Garrison says: (1) the State Development Project, designed to build grass-roots constituency among community-based fatherhood programs, promote the development of regional practitioner networks, and help prepare community-based fatherhood programs to compete for funding; and (2) identifying and disseminating "best practices" in the field.

The new president of the NPNFF board of directors is Jerry Hamilton, manager of Services to Children, Youth and Families with Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin and Metropolitan Chicago, Inc. Hamilton is a 14-year veteran of Goodwill.  He succeeds Tene Jones Heidelberg, who had served as NPNFF's president since its inception. She was then director of Minneapolis Way to Grow, a school-readiness program.

An ongoing focus, Garrison said, is to extend the reach of fatherhood and fragile family issues to national conference agendas.  For example,  the group is working with The Family and Corrections Network on "The North American Conference on Fathers Behind Bars and on the Streets," to be held in September.