Today just happens to be my dad’s birthday! My dad has been a great influence in my life – always encouraging me to be my best and to do what I enjoy. My dad has made a huge difference in my life, so I thought it was appropriate to profile the Dads Make a Difference organization on his birthday.
The mission of Dads Make a Difference is to promote the positive involvement of fathers and to educate youth about responsible parenting. They focus on the role of fathers in raising children; they educate young men and women about the emotional, physical, and financial responsibilities of having children and the challenges of becoming a parent before they are ready. Healthy fatherhood complements and supports healthy motherhood and provides children with a rich experience and understanding of life. Young people who understand parental responsibility are more likely to form strong families that are emotionally and financially secure, in turn these families become backbone of productive, nurturing communities.
In 1993, Dads Make a Difference was started collaboratively by the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, the Family Tree Clinic of Saint Paul, Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Extension and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office when a group of women came together to discuss their common concerns. The first outcome was focus groups with local 9th and 10th grade students which revealed that some teens did not make the connection between sexual activity and potential parenting. The teens also lacked basic knowledge about the importance of paternity. Other prevention curriculum was reviewed and information about males being important parents and planning to be a prepared and capable parent was missing. So, with assistance from a consultant, the group developed Dads Make a Difference – a four lesson curriculum with video designed to be taught by trained high school age youth to middle school age youth in school and community settings. In 1998, the “R Factor” curriculum was developed to reach young adults between ages 16 and 20.
The University of Minnesota Extension administered Dads Make a Difference until February 2003 and then Concordia University in Saint Paul took over until 2006. At that time a Dads Make a Difference Advisory Committee was formed and they became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Dads Make a Difference has trained almost 3,000 teen per educators from 169 schools and community agencies across the state of Minnesota. In turn, these teens have taught the curriculum to about 72,000 middle school age youth in urban, suburban and rural settings. In addition, 56 adults have been trained to teach the “R Factor” curriculum and have reached 1,850 high school students with the program. Organization staff have also reached 1,755 youth in juvenile correction settings.
Nationally, Dads Make a Difference has trained 205 teens from states including Massachusetts, Maryland, Oklahoma, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. They also have an international presence, having sold curriculum to Canada, the Bahamas, and Japan.
So, how can you help?
Dads Make a Difference is implemented in local communities using volunteer teen peer educators and their adult advisors who have been trained to teach the Dads Make a Difference curriculum. Dads Make a Difference has only one paid staff, so they utilize volunteer interns in the office to help with a variety of tasks including marketing, outreach, general office work, and training preparations. Another opportunity to volunteer is as a member of the Board of Directors.
You can also make a monetary donation though the Dads Make a Difference page at GiveMN.org.
You can learn more about Dads Make a Difference at their website, www.dadsmakeadifference.org or connect with them on Facebook. You can also find a “Be There: Dads Matter” program shown on Twin Cities Public Television online through the Minnesota Video Vault at www.mnvideovault.org.
In addition, here some more facts about fatherhood provided by Dads Make a Difference:
- Research shows children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers (Father Facts: Fourth Edition).
- In most cases, children born outside of marriage live with their mothers. If fathers don’t also live with them, their presence in the child’s life is often marginal, and even if actively involved for a time, the father-child relationship tends to be fragile over time (Responsible Fathering).
- Statistics show that 80% of all Americans become parents.
- Research shows that the economic impact of teen pregnancy and father absence on children and families is significant. A common consequence of father’s absence is a major decrease in the financial resources available to his children (Young Fathers).
- Two-thirds of families begun by young unmarried mothers are poor (National Campaign to Prevention Teen Pregnancy, analysis of Current Population survey), and almost 50% of all teen mothers, and over 75% of unmarried teen mothers, began receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child (U.S. Congressional Budget Office).