Father overcomes early struggles with help of the FATHER Project
Challenges are not new to Damian Winfield. With an often absent father, he, his siblings and his single mother struggled financially. He turned to unlawful activities at an early age. He became a father for the first time at age 15. He took jobs when he needed money but admittedly dodged child support payments.
Not until he saw himself “falling right into the trap” his father had did he decide it was time to get help. “I had a tough time seeing my kids,” he said and called his child support worker, who referred him to the FATHER Project. There, in no uncertain terms, Michelle Bell, program coordinator, told him he needed to get a job, and take responsibility for himself and his children.
These were tough words he needed to hear from a kind and supportive voice. It took time, hard work and the support of the FATHER Project, but he made it. The FATHER Project provides advocacy, mentoring, parenting classes, career guidance, GED classes, employment services, case management, paternity establishment, child support services, community re-entry services for fathers leaving correctional facilities, and activities for fathers and children to participate in together.
As a graduate of the FATHER Project’s program, Winfield’s has transformed his life. Today, he is the father of seven “beautiful children,” and a grandfather. He works multiple jobs and takes responsibility for his children financially and emotionally.
Recognizing what the FATHER Project did for him, he feels the responsibility of giving back to the program and the community as a citizen father, he said. He gives speeches to groups and individuals – including mothers, youth, professionals, incarcerated fathers and faith communities – about the importance of being involved in their children’s lives, and building communities that support healthy, active fathers. He’s spoken to large groups about the importance of child support. “The best way to make it work (with children) is to communicate with moms,” he said.
He describes the FATHER Project as an integral part of his life now. “I’ve been trained by the best,” he said. His approach to motivating the fathers he works with is to be patient, taking one day at a time and reaching them right where they are at. “I want to motivate these guys,” he said. “They can do it.”
Just like he did.