Families Network of Western CT strengthens resources for Danbury-area dads

Photo of Alyssa Seidman
Grant money from the state Office of Early Childhood will be used to engage more young and expectant fathers to participate in free programs offered by Families Network of Western CT.

Grant money from the state Office of Early Childhood will be used to engage more young and expectant fathers to participate in free programs offered by Families Network of Western CT.

Sue Giglio / Contributed photo

DANBURY — The psychological notion that men are from Mars may be inaccurate, argues Joel Levitt.

As the fatherhood engagement specialist at Families Network of Western CT, a child advocacy nonprofit based in Danbury, he believes men — specifically fathers — come from Pluto since they tend to be harder to reach when it comes to parent education.

“The whole focus for us is on the health and safety of children, and we promote that in part through parent education,” Levitt said. “Our moms’ groups are invariably larger … (but) we work with community organizations, social services, the Department of Children and Families, the courts and the school systems to let them know we have programming for dads specifically.”

The organization is bridging this gap using grant money from the state Office of Early Childhood. A portion was used to underwrite a part-time position for Levitt, who was a volunteer with Families Network for seven years before the pandemic hit.

The funding will also focus on engaging more young and expectant fathers to participate in the organization’s programming, including “Nurturing Fathers.” The free 13-week series invites fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and father figures to develop the skills to create closer bonds with their children and partners. It meets in Danbury from 6-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday nights starting March 29.

“Men are not joiners by nature. They tend not to want to discuss their feelings (or) parenting issues — it’s not something that dads do,” Levitt explained. “There are virtually no fathers’ groups in the region or anywhere for that matter, (but we want to) break down those walls.”

Families Network hosts a “relatively modest” group of Danbury-area dads on a weekly basis, Levitt said. While working with facilitator Bill Donaldson, fathers of all ages and situations can meet and learn from one another in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

“In my own classes I’ve had fathers at age 17 and fathers who were in their 40s and 50s. … The interesting thing to me is how well everyone works together, whatever their backgrounds are,” Levitt said. “The goal is always the same: to create a happier, healthier environment for their children.”

The dynamics of daily life have shifted “dramatically” as a result of the pandemic, Levitt said, and families are no exception. With children adjusting to different forms of learning to parents working from home or, in some cases, losing their jobs, “it’s a new world.”

“We want to refocus people’s relationships on their children so they can co-parent more effectively and treat each other with respect despite any differences,” he added. “That benefits a child.”

Families Network serves the communities of Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield and Sherman. Its headquarters is at 5 Library Place in Danbury.

For more information about “Nurturing Fathers” or other programs, call 203-791-8773 or visit fnwc.org.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com