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|June 13, 2008
Director of Communications
LAWRENCE FATHERHOOD PROGRAM HELPS
OFFENDERS BECOME BETTER FATHERS
When Jimmy Tavares, a 31-year-old Lawrence man, got into trouble and was ordered on probation, Tavares asked to be placed in the 12-week Fatherhood Program at the Fenton Judicial Center.
The Fatherhood Program was created in 1994 by Chief Probation Officer Thomas Mitchell and Deputy Commissioner Stephen Bocko when they discovered that the majority of men who came before the court did not have fathers or lacked positive male role models during their formative years. There are currently 11 Probation Fatherhood Programs statewide (see attached list).
Tavares, whose 24-year-old girlfriend was carrying his child, had heard about the Fatherhood program and thought he could use the parenting advice as a first-time father.
“The program to me is a blessing. My girl was pregnant and it was the first child for both of us. And the baby was born on my birthday,” an elated Tavares said.
“I can’t go to jail. I don’t want to be one of those fathers who has to be a father from jail. Then I got probation and into this program. I look at it as a real blessing.”
Tavares was one of 18 offenders who graduated this week from the Fatherhood Program which is run by Probation Officer In Charge (POIC) Frank Audy at Lawrence District Court.
The co-leaders of the group are Essex Probate & Family Probation Officer Joseph Fields, Essex County Juvenile Probation Officer Rick St. Onge; and Lawrence District Court Probation Officer Guy Pettoruto. Another leader is former Fatherhood Program graduate Rick Kendall who was ordered to attend the program eight years ago. Kendall is no longer on probation.
The 12-week program features speakers such as Lawrence Police Chief John Romero, Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence Associate Director Steve Kelley, and local businessman and owner of Sal’s Pizza, Sal Lupoli.
The fathers—who ranged from young men with infants and toddlers to grandfathers – were on probation for offenses that included drug-related charges, breaking and entering, and theft of motor vehicles.
This group is one of the largest classes to graduate since the program was established. More than 100 family members attended the graduation this week.
“We share our own lives as fathers and probation officers. The guys understand that we have so much in common. The word is out that this program is very positive. The guys are out there selling it to each other,” Audy said.
The program and Audy’s influence on the group is clear. The fathers pooled their money and surprised Audy with a plaque that featured each of their names. The men also included on the plaque, an inscription that read: “Returning the hearts of the fathers back to their children.”
“He is like a father figure,” Tavares said of Audy.
Tavares said he would recommend that other fathers participate in the program.
“It is one thing to be a man and it is a different thing to be a father. There were a lot of fathers with different stories. But at the end of the day, it always comes down to the child. You can have the toughest man or the weakest man, but what I learned is that it matters how you make your kid feel. I learned ways to show affection and love,” Tavares said.
Audy said, “These men, the fathers, said that they have never heard of a place where they could talk about being fathers. In this program, this is what we do.”