News & Perspectives

News & Perspectives

Nurturing Fathers Graduation

Hampshire County Sheriff Office’s Nurturing Fathers Program Graduation at Hotel Northampton. Photo Credit: Dan Little.

Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

NORTHAMPTON — Anthony Martinez called Vuthy Chhum about 10 times on Tuesday seeking reassurance that his speech and shirt were ready for his graduation.

Martinez met Chhum 15 years ago when the Nurturing Fathers’ program facilitator began at Hampshire Jail and House of Corrections in Northampton, where he was an inmate. A father of five, Martinez said that before taking the program, he didn’t understand even how to approach parenting.

Martinez, who’s been out of jail for five months now, spent several years in an uphill battle of finding himself and his identity as a father with continued support and resources from Chhum and other staff at the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Office. “I’ve been trying to figure out what which way my life was heading,” he said. “I’m 34 and a proud father of five beautiful kids. If you asked me 15 years ago, what kind of father I was, I would have said, sadly but true, I wasn’t at all.”

While telling his story, Martinez took a moment to recognize Chhum’s role in his journey of self-improvement.

“Vuthy has been a part of my uphill battle in my life and never has given up on me,” he said. “Once I found myself and applied real-life skills to the test, it was then I told myself being me and being normal is not so bad after all.”

Anthony Martinez, left, embraces program facilitator Vuthy Chhum after speaking during the graduation ceremony for the Hampshire County Sheriff Office’s Nurturing Fathers Program on Tuesday evening at Hotel Northampton. Photo Credit DAN LITTLE

The Nurturing Fathers’ program teaches fathers how to build parenting skills and strengthen bonds with their children. Organized by The Children’s Trust and Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick J. Cahillane, the program started in the Hampshire County House of Corrections but expanded two years ago to the Northampton Recovery Center and Ware Recovery Center. Over 150 fathers have graduated from the program since 2016.

Eight men celebrated completing a 13-week parenting course for fathers on Tuesday night, but the graduates spent most of the ceremony commemorating the camaraderie and support system built for mothers and fathers by the ever-evolving Nurturing Fathers’ and Aftercare programs over the past 11 years.

“There’s a whole team of alumni over here who we have known for years. That reminded me of who I met when they were 16,” Assistant Deputy Superintendent Melinda Cady said. “We get to watch people become the dads that they want to be, the partners that they want to be, citizens and community members that they want to be and the humans that they want to be.”

Louis Paduano speaks during the graduation ceremony for the Hampshire County Sheriff Office’s Nurturing Fathers Program on Tuesday evening at Hotel Northampton. Photo Credit DAN LITTLE

Beside recruitment in the jail, former and current graduates joined the program because other alumni recommended the course. Shane Morin completed the Nurturing Fathers’ program in 2016 with the first round of graduates, and continues to show up to the group at the Northampton Recovery Center every Tuesday with his daughter Isabelle.

“It’s a big part of my network, my support network, my foundation,” Morin said. “It’s just an amazing group of people. Tremendous amount of resources as you can see from tonight. It’s just a good environment.”

Brandon Downey, who graduated that evening, races young Isabelle every week, but she always leaves him in her dust. He lived with graduates Joe O’Neil and Brian “Bugsy” Baker in the Hairston House, a recovery house in Northampton, and worked with another former graduate.

“It’s a tool that’s in my toolbox. Like coming here is like part of my recovery for staying sober,” Downey said. “And I’m around a lot of good people that I look up to; [there’s] a lot of role models here.”

O’Neil tagged along with a friend to the group and found the curriculum and conversations helped him navigate his changing relationship with his 5-year-old daughter as she grew out of infancy. While much of the information felt intuitive to him, O’Neil appreciated the way the group reminded him to remain patient and understanding while coping with the challenges of parenting.

“Her perspective, or the way she observes things and how she communicates it. I could listen to her talk about anything, you know, for hours,” O’Neil said. “She couldn’t even talk and now she’s using like multisyllable words that I have no idea.”

Previous graduate Brandon Downey applauds during Tuesday evening’s ceremony. Photo credit: Dan Little

The workbook used in the program is based on the evidence-based curriculum from the Nurturing Parenting program in use around the country, but reframes it in terms of fathers. Many of the lessons include introspection into the father’s own childhoods and past experiences.

“Now I know that this 13-week program is a tough 13 weeks; you have to do some soul-searching along the way,” Cahillane said. “I’ve looked and read several chapters in the book, and I’ll tell you, it’s tough to sit down and evaluate yourself and examine yourself and look at yourself and say, ‘Yeah, this was me, how do I fix me?’”

On Oct. 5, The Children’s Trust honored Cahillane with the Governor Paul Cellucci Fatherhood Award in honor of his work with the program.

“His commitment to supporting fathers and the strength-based approach to his work in the criminal justice system reflects what Governor Cellucci stood for and what we know to be effective in building healthy families and communities,” said Jennifer Valenzuela, executive director of the Children’s Trust.

Joseph O’Neil, left, receives his graduation certificate as well as an embrace from Balis during Tuesday’s ceremony. Photo Credit: Dan Little

Louis Paduano, who graduated from the program Tuesday night, said it’s the commitment of caseworker Demetra Balis, Chhum and Cahillane that kept him coming back to the group. The staff stay late with the fathers and sacrificed time with their own families just to hear them vent.

“I’ve seen a lot of different recovery groups and usually it’s the staff come in there because they have to, and the clients come there because they have to,” Paduano said. “In this place, everybody’s coming to they want to and so I just wanted to continue to be a part of that.”

Click here to learn more about the Children's Trust Nurturing Fathers program.