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FATHER Project and Alternative Learning Center partner to nurture teen fathers

They believe the program is the first of its kind in the state.

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Park Rapids Area High School Park Rapids Enterprise file photo / Oct. 20, 2021
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PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — CHI St. Joseph Health’s FATHER Project and the Alternative Learning Center (ALC) at Park Rapids High School have partnered to grow young, nurturing men.

They believe the program is the first of its kind in the state.

Lisa Coborn, ALC coordinator, and Joe Johnson, FATHER Project coordinator, had previously connected through their work with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are stressful or traumatic experiences that take place in a child’s life prior to age 18. Parental divorce, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, a parent who has been incarcerated, a history of untreated mental health and substance misuse in the home can all be traumatic experiences.

“A number of years ago, we started talking about doing health communication groups with the kids. But nothing was centered on just the young man or young father,” Johnson explained.

In mid-November, Johnson began teaching the “Nurturing Fathers” curriculum at ALC. It aims to help teens develop attitudes and skills for being nurturing fathers. The program defines a nurturing father as “a man who actively provides guidance, love and support to enhance the development and growth of children for whom he cares.”

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Johnson is master trainer and facilitator for the Nurturing Fathers program. He adjusted his schedule so he can meet with three teenage fathers on Tuesdays.

“They get a really unique set of tools out of this,” Johnson said. “As I started really thinking about it, as far I know, it’s never been attempted in the state of Minnesota to have this type of curriculum in a school.”

Each young man receives “A Nurturing Father’s Journal” by Mark Perlman.

Discussion revolves around self-reflection and learning to relate to feelings. Johnson said, for example, they began by visualizing their own fathers and “the little boy within.”

“It gets really, really intense. What it does is bring vulnerability to them and allows them to express emotions,” he said.

It can be a painful process, Johnson said, if the boy hasn’t had a proper father role model. “Now I’m asking them to take this journey that could be really hurtful to them,” he said. “But if I can get them to do that, to expose that, there’s great healing that comes from that.”

Societal norms tell men it’s a “weakness” to express emotions or be vulnerable, Johnson said. “What we’re saying is ‘No, it’s a major strength.’”

Coborn heartily agrees. “It’s the most important thing. We won’t get anywhere with students unless we do this work first with them,” she said.

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If ACEs and emotions aren’t addressed, she continued, “it doesn’t matter how much math we give them, how much social studies. This stuff is life-changing.”

Coborn and Johnson hope to eventually expand the program to all young men, whether parents or not. It could equally be applied to young women.

“I know how hard it is to be a dad, myself, at my age,” said Johnson, 41. “It’s a hard, hard job to be a parent. We’re meeting them very, very young with undeveloped minds, undeveloped skill sets. The only thing they know is what they were raised with, so we’re giving them tools to be equipped.”

The curriculum encourages the young men to learn about personal power, self-nurturing, communication, positive social groups, teamwork, commitment and more.

Johnson said he and Coborn are working together with teens “to impact in different ways, holistically."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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