Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Looking Back on Times Square Ink and Dads United for Parenting, and Forward to UPNEXT

A new year begins and, like so many people around the world, I find myself taking stock, personally and professionally. The year just past was overflowing for me on both accounts with opportunities, challenges and excitement. I welcomed my first child into the world, joining the program’s many participants in this thing called ‘fatherhood’. As a professional, I transitioned into the role of Program Director at UPNEXT, a fatherhood engagement and workforce development program at the Midtown Community Court.

UPNEXT represents the culmination of a process of bringing together fatherhood engagement and workforce development services at Midtown that began in 2011. When the previous post of this blog was written, nearly four years ago, workforce development services were being delivered with no formal family engagement component. There was a growing sense, however of an opportunity to provide unique programming through collaboration between the workforce and fatherhood staffs when working with mutual clients. We found that dads engaged in both programs were more likely to find and retain work through Times Square Ink, as well as more successful in increasing financial and emotional engagement with their children in Midtown’s fatherhood group, Dads United for Parenting.

At the time of writing the previous post, about the hardworking Darwin Norwood, I was Times Square Ink’s Job Developer and Retention Specialist. Since then, I have had to opportunity to serve as the program’s Clinical Social Worker, Coordinator, Clinical Director and, now, Program Director. The experiences that I have had in these roles have come to shape my practice as a social worker and my experience as a professional. I have developed through this work in much the same way that we hope to impact the fathers coming through the program. I was lucky to finish graduate school and find a place to keep on growing. That, in a sense, is the environment that we are trying to foster at UPNEXT: a place to grow to as individuals and professionals for the betterment of ourselves and our families.

I am privileged to be joined in this work by an exceedingly committed and skilled staff. These individuals have been with the department for varying amounts of time, but a richness of commitment is apparent in all. Genna Plumitallo, the program’s Fatherhood Specialist, joined Times Square Ink as a volunteer in 2010 and connected participants with resources and motivation as she has grown from volunteer, to AmeriCorps Member, Part-Time Facilitator, Employment Specialist and into her current role. Cara Camacho joined Times Square Ink as an AmeriCorps Member in 2011 and rejoined the program in 2013 as the Program Associate and was promoted in 2014 to the role of Employment Specialist. Sebastian X. Bullock has been with the team for less than a year, but has already begun to transform UPNEXT’s relationships with employers and access to other opportunities. Our newest staff members, Rhabia Cowell and Darwin Garcia, joined the team this fall. Rhabia has brought a career of fiscal management expertise to bear on the administrative stew that comes with connecting fathers with employment and family engagement opportunities. Darwin, as the Program Associate, brings fresh thinking to administrative and programming work (He will also be the lead author this blog going forward.). I guess that all of this a long-form way of expressing how fortunate I feel to be a part of something special as I move into 2015. Now, you can look forward to hearing from Darwin on a regular basis as he keeps you all in the loop about what’s new at UPNEXT.