In 2010, Baby Buggy launched its Fatherhood Initiative to support fathers who are struggling to play a greater role in the lives of their children. Since that time, we have donated over 160,000 items to fatherhood participants in NYC and LA. Each month, we are going to feature some of the dads who have played a part in making this program happen. This month, it’s Baby Buggy’s own Office Manager, Rick Justiniano. Here is his interview with Baby Buggy’s Executive Director Katherine Snider: KS: When you joined Baby Buggy in 2009, there was only one other man on staff. And you were our first dad. You were a pioneer! What was it about Baby Buggy that appealed to you?
RICK: Helping families- I loved the idea. I loved the idea that it wasn’t just a 9 to 5 job. It was somewhere where you were happy to get up in the morning and come to work.
My parents came here from Puerto Rico in the 1960s. I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of poverty. I saw the importance of giving back. It was always a struggle for my dad, but he worked hard. He was veryresponsible, he always put us first. My mom was a school teacher at PS 173. She was very dedicated, and she told us stories about kids living in really bad situations. My family volunteered a lot at a soup kitchen during the holidays, and we did food drives.
KS: You have two amazing, beautiful daughters. How old are they now?
RICK; Zoe is 12 and Mya is 14. Since I started work at Baby Buggy, the girls have become more consciousabout giving back. They are more appreciative of what they have.
KS: What is your favorite thing to do with your girls?
RICK: Going to the park on Sundays with my girls- when it’s warm. I love having picnics with them. Sundays in the winter start with a big breakfast. We all sit around reading. I read the Times, they do their homework. And then we all make a big dinner.
KS: Since you joined us, we launched our Fatherhood Initiative. What do you think it most interesting orimportant about this initiative?
RICK: Dads are so important to their kids. More important than many think they are. That status quo is that moms are more important. And the system supports that. I know from my own experience that dads often have to fight to be there for their children.
And I love the way we donate. We don’t just give out stuff. We ask fathers to make a commitment to theprogram and to their kids, and reward them for it. Our donations make it easier for them to be parents.
On a beautiful fall Saturday as jets from nearby LaGuardia airport flew overhead in Queens, Baby Buggy celebrated with 71 fathers from all walks of life. These fathers, along with their families, were participating in a "Stepping Up" ceremony to recognize their accomplishments and growth through the Forestdale Fathering Initiative. They have truly become "Kings of Queens!" These fathers have committed to "being forever present and actively involved in the lives they have created." They have participated in numerous trainings on topics including parenting, anger management, healthy relationships, nutrition, and job skills development. These dads spent many hours learning, sharing, and growing, despite the challenges of their other work and family responsibilities.
One father, Cleeford, spoke at the podium to the large audience (over 100!) of fellow dads, family members, and program staff who were there for the ceremony. Cleeford shared that after participating in this fathering program, he believes he is “an entirely new person.” He feels that he now has a deeper and clearer understanding of how to be a better father and how to be a better co-parent with the mother of his son. “Even when I had to leave work early to get here for classes, I always knew it was worth it…for my son and for me.” All of the fathers who shared their stories thanked the Fathering staff many times over and it is clear that strong bonds have been forged between the men participating in this innovative program. They announced that a new alumni group is forming specifically for the dads whose first language is Spanish so they can continue to support each other after graduation in a comfortable, culturally-sensitive way. Other alumni groups continue to meet on an ongoing basis to build on the lessons they have already learned and also to serve as mentors to fathers new to the program.
A highlight of this “Stepping Up” ceremony was when Thabiti Boone of the Allan Houston Foundation shared his own incredible personal story and inspired everyone there. Thabiti did not grow up with an actively-engaged father and was born to a struggling, teen mother. He threw himself into the rigors and joy of basketball as a way to cope with the many challenges he and his family faced. He was overwhelmed when he discovered that, at 19, he was going to be a father. When the mother of his child let him know that she was in no way prepared to be a teen mother, Thabiti stepped up and took his baby with him to college where he played competitive basketball. As a teen, male, single parent, Thabiti said “what I would have given for a Baby Buggy back then....I had to find a way to pay for a crib, a stroller, formula, and diapers, all while trying to study and play ball!” Thabiti’s baby girl is now 30 years old and he has dedicated his life to raising awareness about the challenges of father absence while developing important projects that promote responsible fatherhood.
Baby Buggy is honored to have been a part of this inspirational day and with the help of our generous donors, we will continue to help fathers, both graduates and new participants in fathering initiatives, provide the warm, loving, safe environments their children need to grow and thrive.
June is the perfect month to celebrate fathers from all walks of life and we have been doing just that here at Baby Buggy! Dads from our fatherhood programs in the Bronx and Queens have been working hard over the past year to build on their strengths to become hands-on fathers who are actively involved in the lives of their children. Many will officially graduate this month and we look forward to celebrating with them. One dad, Shane, recently completed the Fathers First program in Far Rockaway and has weathered many personal storms (including Superstorm Sandy!) to become a positive role model for his young daughter. Congratulations Shane!
We also celebrated fatherhood at our annual Baby Buggy Bedtime Bash where 100 participants in our fatherhood programs attended with their children. This fun family carnival held at an amusement park in Central Park is a wonderful Baby Buggy tradition and we were thrilled to have so many of our participant families join us for a beautiful early summer evening filled with games, rides, food, and fun.
Reggie from one of our Queens fatherhood programs attended with his four children and wife Lisa. They all wore paper plate hats made by the famous paper artist "Mr. Cheng" and enjoyed playing with their balloon animals and eating delicious ice cream. And, of course, it was a thrill to meet Elmo and Olivia the Pig too! Reggie said that attending an event like this is a good reminder about how important it is for dads to stay in their children's lives, "Children really need their daddy and if you are not there, you will miss out on all those silly moments...those smiles are priceless."
Rodney from our Bronx fatherhood program also attended the carnival with his 2-year-old triplets and 1-year-old son Rodney, Jr.! Baby Buggy was able to provide Rodney with a much-needed "quad stroller," so he is able to transport his adorable young family around his neighborhood. Needless to say, Rodney has his hands full and with help from supporters like you, we are able to meet the unique needs of low-income dads and their children.
Another young dad from our Bronx fatherhood program, Ronnell, shared with us how Baby Buggy has helped him be an even better father to his 2-year-old daughter Elisha: “I am Mr. Fix-It, the Boo-Boo Patrol, and the Early Bird, who is up first thing in the morning getting my daughter ready for preschool. I’ve had my share of ups and downs and this program has helped me with anger issues and with relationship issues…it helps me be a better father after every get-together.” Parenting is a fun and challenging balancing act for all moms and dads, but with the support of Baby Buggy and the Bronx Fatherhood program, Ronnell is able to build on his strengths and talents. Ronnell has received clothing, diapers, a crib, and a stroller for Elisha from Baby Buggy to help make parenting just a little bit easier as he works to build a happy and healthy life for his family in one of the poorest communities in the U.S. “I am grateful because this really helps relieve the financial burden for me…I appreciate any extra help I can get.”
Baby Buggy has distributed nearly 190,000 items to low-income fathers like Ronnell, Rodney, Reggie, and Shane and we can't think of a better way to celebrate Father's Day than to support all fathers as they work to become happy and healthy role models for their children. Thank you for your support and Happy Father's Day to all!
Laurel Parker West joined the Baby Buggy team as Program Director in December 2012 and attended her first site visit on Saturday, December 15th at the Forest Hills, Queens campus of our Forestdale site. She participated in the Stepping Up graduation ceremony for over 30 fathers from diverse backgrounds and then celebrated with the fathers and their children at a holiday lunch that included food, conversation, singing, and a visit from Santa who distributed new toys to the children. She wanted to share her experience with you, our global giving supporters, so you can see just how important it is to provide needed supplies to the innovative Fatherhood initiative at this site in Queens, as well as to our programs across New York and in Los Angeles.
On the Saturday morning after the heart-breaking tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, the attendees at the Forestdale Fathering Initiative Stepping Up celebration all hugged their children a little tighter. As program staff congratulated the 30 fathers on their successful completion of the intensive 12-week program (including parenting and relationship skill development, job and education counseling, and anger management courses), they reminded us all about how precious our children are and what an important role fathers have in their lives.
The fathers at the graduation come from very diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds and arrived at the program with different challenges. Some had been referred due to domestic violence incidents and others through the family courts. What was so striking about watching the group, was the strength of the friendships that had been formed between men from completely different walks of life who now share a common commitment to being engaged and loving fathers.
Near the end of the program, after both the staff and participants shared how much the Baby Buggy donations meant to them and their children, a few of the fathers spoke to the crowd about how this program had changed their lives. One father, Zyman, candidly shared in a thick Eastern European accent that as a recent immigrant to New York, he had come from a culture and a family that tended to view women more as property than as people. Through this program, he shared, he not only learned to be a better father, but to be a better husband and that his wife is his equal. A participant in the young fathers program, Dashon, also got up to speak and shared how this program has helped him to be a hands-on father to his son even though his own father had never been a part of his life—he felt empowered to break this cycle.
Hope you enjoy the photos from this graduation celebration where father and their children could truly celebrate the bonds they are building and strengthening. We thought you would also enjoy seeing the "Daddy's Promise" pledge that is part of this program too...a promise that all parents work hard to uphold. Thank you so much for your ongoing support of our fatherhood programs!
Baby Buggy has now provided over 100,000 items to families in need through our network of Fatherhood Programs in New York City and Los Angeles; this includes a donation that went out today to Fathers First, a fatherhood program located in the Rockaways, as their center was damaged by the hurricane and many of their families have been displaced by the hurricane and have lost their homes due to a fire related to the hurricane. These families have lost everything and Baby Buggy is working very hard to provide them with the essentials they need during this challenging time - everything ranging from warm coats, clothing and blankets to formula, baby food and water. They are going to need donations for months to come as they work to rebuild their lives and homes.
The fathers in these families are enrolled in reputable, impactful fatherhood programs that give them the knowledge and skills necessary for fatherhood, while offering them support, guidance and encouragement along the way so they can be involved in their children's lives. These programs also offer educational workshops focusing on parenting skills, conflict resolution, and financial education, as well as many other topics to help give fathers the skills necessary to build a stable life for their families.
The team from the Children's Institute's Fatherhood Program in LA provided the following anecdote and case story to demonstrate the impact of Baby Buggy donations in the lives of their client families:
Our Fatherhood program overall has been significantly impacted by this partnership with Baby Buggy. We have seen an increase in father’s attendance and participation in the groups resulting from increased visitation from theirchildren’s primary caregivers (either the mother or grandmother). It has instilled a sense of pride in so many of these fathers that we have not seen before. They feel like they are contributing in a meaningful way to their child and to their families that they so desperately want to be a part of. For that, we are forever grateful for this partnership and your continuing support. As you know, it is so important to have fathers play an active an meaningful role in their children’s lives – these children have better attendance at school, better grades and significantly less ganginvolvement. Thank you! You are impacting hundreds and thousands of children and their families. I think our hope is that one day we’ll both be put out of business… : ) Until then, we are so thankful for your dedication and generosity! THANK YOU BABY BUGGY!!!
Hector is a single parent to 14 month old baby Cierra. His wife left him and moved back to Guatamala to be with her family when Cierra was just 3 months old. Hector has been an inspiration to the other fathers in our Fatherhood group here at Otis Booth. He participates in every group session and is always cheery and upbeat. He works as many jobs as he can – he has four steady jobs but he picks up other small odd jobs when possible so he can provide for Cierra. He wants to provide the absolute best he can for Cierra so he has been able to rent a small one room apartment for the two of them. Our partnership with Baby Buggy has been amazing for this family. Hector works as hard as he can to provide for Cierra. The Delta pack'n'play donatd by Baby Buggy has been amazing – he was overwhelmed with tears of joy when he was able to move Cierra into a proper bed. They had previously been sharing a mattress on the ground. As Cierra has become more mobile, Hector has noted a need to have her in a safe space while he is getting ready for work. He has always wanted her to have a space of her own to sleep in. Hector recently was able to receive a Bugaboo stroller from Baby Buggy as well so he no longer has to carry Cierra everywhere. Cierra just LOVES it too! He really feels like someone believes in him – believes in their little family and that goes such a long way – thank you Baby Buggy, Delta and Bugaboo!
Your friends at CII
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