By Matt Martinez
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Angelo Jackson, a 21-year-old living on North Teutonia Avenue and West Silver Spring Drive, is expecting his first child in September.
He’s hoping to learn how to be a good father and has set a goal: to do everything right for his baby.
For Jackson, his new child carries an added significance: He wants to honor his mother-in-law and brother-in-law who always wanted him to be a father but are no longer around to see it.
“I look at them like they blessed us with this baby,” Jackson said. “They always wanted it to happen, so they gave us this baby – and we’re going to push toward doing what’s right for this baby.”
For some new and expecting fathers, the light at the end of the tunnel can seem distant and the choices made can be critical. One program hosted each week in the basement of Ebenezer Church of God In Christ, 3132 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, has expanded to give dads guidance and embrace a new generation of kids.
The Blanket of Love program is an Ascension Wisconsin program that began in 2004, started by community-health and parish nurse Julia Means to reduce infant mortality. The program is meant to provide support to new and expecting mothers to help prevent premature births and ensure healthy pregnancies.
A new arm of the program, called Blanket of Love Dads, or BOLD, was recently formed with help from Marques Hogans. Sr., project manager for the BUILD Sherman Park Ascension Wisconsin program, and Flenard Burnham, community outreach specialist with Milwaukee County Healthy Start.
A focus on fathers
“Fathers have a lot to do with the health of their children,” Means said during a BOLD session earlier this year to a group of eight participants. “We need your help to have your child reach their first birthday.”
On Wednesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., participants gather to have open discussions about the role and responsibilities of fathers. At one session, they spent time defining the attributes of a good father and the need to provide. Burnham said the group sessions allowed participants to have common questions answered and find out more about their shared experiences.
Some of the typical questions relate to pregnancy and ways that they can help make expectant mothers more comfortable during the process.
“It’s just like being in school,” Burnham said. “They got the same question on their mind, but they just don’t open their mouth and ask that question. Then, once the conversation starts, it flows from here to there, and everybody’s going through something similar.”
Participants also had a chance to ask Means, a registered nurse, medical questions about pregnancy and what to watch out for. Means said that a dedicated team is available as a resource to those in the program at any time to voice their concerns.
Hogans said in the session that one of the biggest goals is to help fathers prepare for doctor visits and to be able to advocate and participate in the appointments.
Burnham and Hogans, both fathers, use their own experiences to help illustrate concepts of fatherhood. The lessons taught to participants are a mix of their stories and a curriculum from Ascension based around family values.
The experience can be especially important for those who have not consistently had father figures as role models, Burnham said.
Many discussions revolve around decisions and consequences.
“You have to make these decisions, you have to deal with your decisions,” Burnham said at one session. “This baby did not choose to come into this world. Now that this baby’s here, what are you going to do? And how you going to do what you need to do? You can keep playing around, but this baby is going to be here.”
How to get involved
Text “BOLD” to 833-524-1311 to receive a registration link.
You can also contact Ascension’s Office of Community Services at 414-465-4587 or email email@example.com if you have additional questions.
You can also contact Flenard Burnham at 414-286-8586.