Curtis Dorsey wasn't exactly a willing volunteer for the Young Fathers Program of Annapolis.
"I'll tell you the truth," Dorsey says. "They dragged me in, kicking and screaming all the way."
Now, two months later, Dorsey appears grateful that recruiters for the program persuaded him to give it a try. "I'm thinking more about my son now," he says, referring to 5-year-old Curtis Jr.
Dorsey and more than 20 participants in Young Fathers last night got together at the Stanton Center in Annapolis to celebrate Thanksgiving a little early with a dinner for their children, and the mothers of their children.
The program, which began last April, aids young fathers from 16 to 25 by providing them with parenting skills, job skills and a
"When they came in here they were separate from one another," says program coordinator Tyrone Furman. "Now, they're trying to come together as a group. They encourage each other. They're forming relationships that will last beyond these 18 months."
After cooking up the traditional Thanksgiving fare of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes, some of the young men donned chef hats and served dinner to nearly 30 guests.
As diners filed around the serving table, several of the cooks steered their guests in the direction of particular dishes that the young men had proudly prepared.
"This is very encouraging to see so many of them out here tonight," said Nigel Vann, a program coordinator with Public/Private Ventures, in Philadelphia, which organizes programs for disadvantaged youths.
Annapolis was one of six sites chosen around the country to try this pilot program, Vann says. The others are Philadelphia; Cleveland; Fresno, Calif.; Racine, Wis.; and St. Petersburg, Fla.
"The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funded the greatest part of this project," Vann says. "They were interested in the issue of teen pregnancy. When we looked around we realized there were a lot of programs for young mothers but nothing for young fathers. They have been virtually overlooked."
Furman says the program offers the "overlooked" fathers a chance to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
"These young men are a fear and a threat to me, too," Furman says. "These are the same young men we read about who are out there committing the crimes.
"But these young men are real human beings. I've seen them cry. They hurt, too. We're offering them a chance they may have never had before," he adds.
For 18 months, the participants meet as often as twice a week. During those months, many work on improving their educational skills in order to find jobs that will allow them to support their children financially. Others work on supporting their children emotionally.
Some of the young men are admitted former drug dealers, users, or both. Learning to support their children financially and emotionally has proven to be a challenge.
James Butler, 25, is taking his chance and parlaying it into a role as an advocate for the young men in the community. A participant in the program as well as a program assistant, Butler says the members of the group respond to him because he is one of them.
A former drug dealer and the father of five children whose ages range from 1 to 8, Butler says he had "a bad attitude" before finding Furman and the program.
Butler says he is working to obtain his high school equivalency certificate.
"I'm trying to find a full-time job," he says. And I'm trying to help these guys. I got away from that life. I know they can.
"Last year when I had really started to turn my life around, my mother said she was proud of me. It was the first time she had said that. It was the first time I had really given her something to be proud of," Butler adds.
A sense of pride is what Dorsey says he wants to give to his son, who once knew him mainly as someone who would buy him presents.
"Before I came here, I wasn't really taking care of him," says Dorsey, also a former drug dealer. "When I got some money, I bought him some shoes. I thought that was supposed to last him the rest of the year. Now I know there's more."
Whenever Dorsey took Curtis out, it was to show him off to other drug dealers, a sign of his manhood, he says.
Dorsey says he wants a much better life for his son. "I don't want my son to die at 17 or 18," he says. "I used to do some wild stuff. And I'll tell you, it's hard not having any money. I'm used to having at least a thousand in my pockets.
"But I don't want to do that no more. I don't want to have to watch my back. When I'm gone, I don't want people to say to my son, 'Your father wasn't nothing but a drug dealer.' Life ain't about that no more," he says.