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Invisible Families: Hillman City Organization Helps at-Risk Dads Get Back on Their Feet

By Laura Kesl (in partnership with The Seattle Times)

Marvin and Jeanett Charles founded Divine Alternative for Dads (D.A.D.S.) in the living room of their Rainier Valley home in 1998, with the vision that stronger fathers create healthier communities.

“I believe these fathers need someone to walk alongside them,” said Marvin at a recent fundraising event. “Someone to provide them with hope and encouragement.”

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Walking alongside at-risk and in need fathers is something that Marvin and his wife committed to more than twelve years ago, and since founding the 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, Marvin and Jeanette have watched D.A.D.S. grow and evolve with the needs of their community.

They now work from a small office space nestled between shops in Rainer Valley, where they tirelessly work with their staff and board members to provide a range of holistic services to their clients, including housing assistance, child support management, parenting plan assistance, reunification, support groups, case management and help with crisis issues such as finding housing and affordable drug and alcohol treatment.

One subset of fathers who seek assistance from D.A.D.S. includes men exiting the criminal justice system. Frequently homeless, jobless and separated from families and support networks, these men leaving the criminal justice system and at risk of entering homelessness face a myriad of challenges and barriers.

“The one thing that all fathers need when leaving the penitentiary is a chance,” says Nathan, a current homeless father of three, serving time in the Pierce County New Jail (full disclosure: Nathan happens to be a friend of mine).

Once released from jail, Nate hopes to connect with D.A.D.S. and utilize their services to reunite with his family. Through the reunification program, D.A.D.S. partners with consultants and other experts within the legal limits of the law, to help locate and reunite formerly incarcerated men with their children and families.  One-on-one case management is also available to fathers like Nathan and includes time-limited assistance with gaining stable housing, in hopes of keeping vulnerable fathers off the streets.

Reuniting broken families was a recurring theme at the 8th annual Fatherhood Banquet held last month at Seattle Pacific University’s Gwinn Commons. Men, women and children celebrated together at the annual fundraiser as eleven fathers who had overcome incredible odds to become active fathers in their families and communities, walked across the stage, accepted their graduation awards, and thanked Marvin and Jeanette for faithfully walking along side them.

In front of a room full of families, mentors, community professionals and long-time D.A.D.S. supporters, father after father confidently held the microphone and shared their heartfelt personal stories about overcoming adversity, about bettering their lives, and about reuniting with their children. The fearless dedication and perseverance Marvin, Jeanette and their committed staff members possess towards serving the men in their community was evident from the gratitude in the words and expressions of the men who shared their testimonies on stage.

“D.A.D.S. is one of the best ministries working with families and fathers in the south end,” believes Mike McCormick-Huentelman, the director of Urban Ministries at University Presbyterian Church. McCormick-Huentelman praised the caring staff of D.A.D.S., the dedication of Marvin and Jeanette and their unique ability to love and support the men in their programs.

Although the work is complex and the daily tasks may be overwhelming, the mission of D.A.D.S. is a simple one: to give fathers hope by walking together in supportive community, helping navigate relational and legal barriers which separate them from their children and families. Three goals have grown and evolved from the D.A.D.S. mission, and include:

  • To stop the cycle of family violence and brokenness in order to improve the lives of children.
  • To encourage fathers to become agents of change in their communities.
  • To model healthy relations as a means of creating healthier fathers and families.

Go here to learn more about how you can use or  support the services provided by D.A.D.S.

Laura Kesl is a graduate student in Student Development Administration at Seattle University. Top right: Jeanett Charles. Mid-left: D.A.D.S. is located in Hillman City. Bottom right: Marvin Charles. Photos/David Mullarkey Images