Celebrate the power of connections among men this Father’s Day
As Father’s Day approaches, communities are honoring the importance of fathers and father figures as role models, mentors, and agents of change. Recognizing that connections among men and boys are essential to community health, Making Connections communities are fostering mental wellbeing by launching male engagement networks, matching youth with adult mentors, preparing young men to nurture their sons and daughters, and growing a peer network of male veterans. Their work is part of Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys, an initiative funded by the Movember Foundation and coordinated by Prevention Institute in which communities across the U.S. are developing strategies to improve conditions that can affect the wellbeing of men, boys and their families, including social connections, economic and educational opportunities, and improvements in the physical environment.
In Celebration of Father’s Day, we share a few highlights:
- At a Father’s Day breakfast this month in Boston, Local Initiatives Support Corporation is launching the Male Engagement Network (MEN), which brings together longstanding coalitions from the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan to build on their work helping men of color improve their financial and housing stability, important factors in men’s mental wellbeing. The launch event is part of the annual Father’s Day meeting of Breakfast IV Brothers, which organizes regular gatherings to create a safe space to foster mentoring and sharing across generations. “It’s easy for men of color to feel isolated and alone in dealing with the challenges we face,” said Holden Pierre, a leader from the Mattapan coalition. The Male Engagement Network makes connections between people, between communities, and between organizations, so we can better support one another.” MEN links members with partner organizations such as Fathers Uplift, which is working with community organizations, clinicians, and peer support specialists to help fathers find permanent housing, jobs, and mental health services. Building networks and enhancing skills among men and boys helps them to become leaders within their neighborhoods who can collectively advocate for policies and practices that support community-wide wellbeing.
- In Houston, a coalition lead by the Houston Health Department is developing community systems to help close gaps in achievement for young men of color. A key element of this work are the mentors who serve as father figures to the youth. Charles Savage, executive director of the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program (FWEP), a partner in the work, said that 75-85% of the youth whom his organization works with do not have fathers at home. Even in cases where the youth live with their fathers, he said, the fathers often are away working 10- to 16-hour days trying to support their families. “Boys naturally gravitate toward men,” he said. “Our program takes on the role of being the surrogate, the mentor for boys who don’t have a father at home.” The Program matches middle and high school students in the Fifth Ward with men—positive role models who look like them—who build relationships with the students. The men help the students with everything from academics and employment to life skills, including fatherhood, through one-on-one connections, an after-school program, and other activities. Youth who participate in the program are advancing in school, achieving success, and ultimately, giving back to their communities. Charles recalls one graduate who earned a college degree and returned to teach art classes to the youth. Every class, he brought his daughter, because as a youth participant in the program, he had made a promise: when he became a father, he was going to take his child everywhere he went. “He’s a man of his word,” Charles said.
- Building community understanding and support for veterans and their families who may otherwise feel isolated is a cornerstone of Resilience Grows Here (RGH), a coalition led by the Farmington Valley Health District. Jeff Sturgeon, a Navy Veteran who is a member of the RGH steering committee, said the high rate of suicides and lack of supports for veterans prompted him to get involved. Often, he said, veterans “don’t come back to a system that welcomes you with open arms and is doing everything to help you get re-acclimated.” As a result, many veterans face struggles that the people around them don’t always understand. As a mentor for RGH, Jeff has been matched with a veteran who, like him, experiences post-traumatic stress disorder. “Basically we touch base, we’ll go out bowling or something,” he said. “He has someone who can kind of relate to him, to his problems. He knows he has someone who is going to be there anytime he needs it.” In addition to cultivating the peer network, RGH is building community understanding of the needs and sacrifices of veterans and their families. This includes working with middle and high school students to decrease stigma around mental health, and nurture empathy and resilience. The work in the schools includes QPR (question, persuade, refer) suicide prevention training for teachers and students. RGH also has created a community garden that serves as a gathering place for veterans and offers volunteer activities that help provide a sense of purpose. Ever present at RGH events is Anzac, a community service dog who helps serve as a connector among veterans, mental health service providers, and clergy.
We often overlook the importance that meaningful connections can play in addressing disparities in the health and wellbeing of men and boys. This month, we ask you to pause and celebrate the many ways these links are strengthening boys, men, families, and communities.
More about Making Connections
Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys is a national initiative with an initial focus on high-need communities, including men and boys of color, military service members and veterans. Sixteen coalitions across the U.S. are developing community-wide prevention strategies to enhance their social, economic, and physical environments. The Movember Foundation, the only global charity focused solely on men’s health, is funding the work; Prevention Institute is providing coordination, training, and technical assistance; and a team from the University of South Florida is evaluating progress and outcomes.