Progressive Fathers group offers dads opportunity to connect, learn

dgraham@bradenton.comJune 22, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Getting together as parents and as men who share goals of a better life for themselves and their children are the connections for Progressive Fathers, a support group founded by social worker and local dad Darvin Searls.

Discussion topics include personal responsibility, manhood and fatherhood, parenting skills, child support issues, employment, custody and visitation and communication skills, Searls said.

Meetings are 6:30 to 8 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month at the 13th Avenue Dream Center, 922 24th St. E., Bradenton.

"Having patience, being more involved in our children's lives, teaching them to be responsible like starting at an early age on learning, education-wise, and common sense," are

some things father Marquis Capers said he has learned by participating in the group. "I teach my daughter financially so she can be responsible as she gets older, things that kids look for in their parents."

The 2008 Manatee High basketball player said, "It's a really great feeling, when your kids respond to you and they're all happy and excited and they want to learn new things."

"When you have a child and there's someone depending on you, you draw strength you didn't know you had," said Scott Hurley, a 42-year-old single dad of a 2-year-old.

"I decided to be in the group because I wanted to give back some of information I learned being part of Healthy Start, and to learn what other fathers do trying to take care of children in general."

After working with expectant parents in the Healthy Start program for several years, Searls realized he himself had only been two days away from being a teenage dad when his first daughter was born.

That event caused him to give up a college football scholarship. He returned home, where he finished his education without sports by getting his bachelor's degree in criminology from the University of South Florida in Tampa, and to his job as a social worker with the Healthy Start program, now at the 13th Avenue Dream Center in Bradenton.

"We identify certain risk factors to the child's well-being, and we had been working with moms. I noticed some fathers coming. I would tell them, 'Great job, I notice what you're doing,'" said Searls, 33.

"One father stuck out to me, because he would always come to his girlfriend's obstetric appointments and I would talk to him. I always wondered what information could I be giving him that would be helpful to him. He was under 18, still going to school, helping his girlfriend who was carrying his child," the Bayshore High graduate said.

There were no resources for teenage dads or any kind of father support, Searls found. After an Affirming Fathers conference, he had the idea for the support group Progressive Fathers.

"I was coming up with different names, because I wanted them to go further in life, not just to takethem where they are in life now, but to progress their fathering skills," said Searls, who has two daughters and a son.

Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.

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