by: ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Socializing as their children play on the patio of the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center are six dads - from left: Terence Kennedy, Chuck Dotson, Shanne Sowards, Michael Fritz, Dennis Mitchell, and Andy Fix.When THE BEE walked in, Shanne Sowards was tending his seventeen-month-old nephew, Sean, while putting pizza in the oven at Brentwood-Darlington Community Center, on a recent Tuesday evening.

This was Sowards’ night as facilitator for a Dad’s Group that began meeting four years ago, as part of Impact NW’s Early Childhood Program at the Inner Southeast community center.

When asked if he had any children of his own, a young-looking Sowards answered. “Yes – 21, 15, and 13 years old.” Sowards became a father at age fifteen.

He discovered the Dad’s Group last November, and has been joining about ten men with their children at these meetings ever since. Sowards attends with his nephew as a part of giving back for the crucial support he received over a decade ago, when he was struggling with fatherhood at a tender age.

He has also started a mentoring group for teen dads called Squires that’s centered in Milwaukie, where he lives.

However, most of the dads in this group live close by the Brentwood Darlington Community Center on S.E. 62nd south of Duke Street, or not far away – and have wives or partners with whom they share child care. They may be working a swing shift, going to school, staying at home due to unemployment or by a choice to be a stay-at-home dad.

The group meets on Tuesdays from 6 to 7:30 pm, and on Friday mornings from 10 to 11:30 am. Typically eight to ten men and about a dozen children show up – fewer on Fridays. Five men alternate sharing the role of facilitator – sending out reminders to the group, setting up, baking pizza, and closing up.

Pizza aroma fills the air as Sowards feeds his nephew, and dads trickle in with their children just after 6 pm. Play spaces include two clean and colorful rooms with enticing toys. On this sunny evening, they spill out onto a large fenced patio flanked by open skies and the vast grassy backyard of Lane Middle School.

The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. Dennis Mitchell says he brings his 2½-year-old daughter Eleanor for the socialization. Chuck Dotson is a full time student, and admits parenting can be stressful – but he says the group has given him confidence, inspiration, and good advice.

Michael Fritz says he didn’t have time for the group until he lost his job, and then “I caved in to the constant urging of my neighbor, Terence Kennedy”, who was a regular at the Dad’s Group. He attends both Wednesdays and Fridays and hasn’t regretted a minute. All of the dads say they enjoy each other’s company as the children play.

Providing a sense of support and community is the goal of the group, says Julie Houston, Impact NW’s Director of Early Childhood and Family Services at the Brentwood-Darlington Community Center.

The program is funded through the Children’s Trust Fund of Oregon, and it has also had a small grant from Southeast Uplift for the first three years. Two Woodstock businesses provide tangible support – Papa Murphy’s Pizza, which has donated pizzas every week for four years; and Papaccino’s, which has donated coffee for the Friday morning group for the past eighteen months.

“It’s community support – from dads, volunteers and businesses – that has sustained this group, and made it what it is!” exclaims Houston.

To find out more about this program, contact Julie Houston at 503/988-5961, extension 234. More information about Impact NW’s programs can be found online at: HYPERLINK ""

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