Southwest Citizen Honored

Helping Teen Dads Be Better Fathers

by Debra Wood


 

District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey (left) and Community Action Manager Lavon Williams (right) congratulate Winter Garden resident Haki Nkrumah for being named Orange County District 1 Citizen of the Year.

After 11 years at the helm of Young Fathers of Central Florida, Haki Nkrumah of Winter Garden was named Orange County District 1 Citizen of the Year by Commissioner Betsy VanderLey.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea [to name him],” said Commissioner VanderLey, who has known Haki for the past 10 years. “It’s my recognizing the impact he has made and what one person can do in the community, having a vision and putting work behind it.”

The commissioner explained that other states often have programs for teen dads, but not Florida. Yet, society wants to hold the young men to high standards of supporting their families and being good fathers. Haki stepped up to fill the void in Orange County.

“It’s good recognition,” Haki said. “We provide supportive services for teens and young fathers.”

Young Fathers of Central Florida, a nonprofit organization, aims to improve teen fathers’ participation in their children’s lives. The organization serves young men, ages 14 to 24, and offers dad-to-dad mentoring, parenting classes, support groups and a prevention program for boys ages 10 to 13. Annually, the organization plays host to a national conference to share best practices and new ideas to help teen fathers.

Haki often finds that young men do not have a father figure in their lives. The mentoring program helps them learn how to be responsible and help to raise their children.

Commissioner VanderLey served on the Young Fathers board years prior to her becoming a county commissioner and has “kept it on her radar.”

“She knows the work going into it and how difficult it is to raise funds,” Haki said. “Betsy has been there supporting us.”

Most of Haki and his organization’s work is in Orange County. He reaches out to young men at community centers throughout Orlando and Orange County. He receives funding from both the county and the city for his summer prevention program, and some businesses sponsor specific programs. The organization still is in need of money and volunteers.

Haki also speaks nationally on the topic and serves as an adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health. He also has helped organizations in other communities form similar teen father programs. His interest in helping this population began 20 years ago, with the Jamaica Father’s Project in New York City. Haki moved to Central Florida in 2005 and started Young Fathers one year later.

“We are child advocates,” he said. “Young kids don’t know how to raise children.”

The young men typically are uneducated and lack resources. Haki said most people do not care about this population. They do not vote. They do not have jobs or cars. Young Fathers does not charge the young men it serves.

“We help young men be more responsible fathers,” said Haki, calling this his life’s work.   ♥

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