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While serving time in the Douglas County jail, Joe Ricley learned about the Healthy Dads program through a presentation in October by the program’s coordinator, Jery M·rquez, of the Health Department. He didn’t sign up, but he took a business card.
About a month later, Ricley called M·rquez because he wanted to participate in the Healthy Dads program. That call was a turning point for the 43-year-old father of two children, ages 4 and 6. He was out of jail and ready to focus on his children instead of the toxic relationship he had been in for seven years. "I finally realized that I’m moving on to better me and my children. I know that’s what’s best for us," he said.
He described the Healthy Families program as "a blessing" because he finally found the support he needed from Marquez, who also is a father, and other dads in the program. "It’s about having positive support and knowing that dads are cared about," he said.
Ricley said the other dads gave him a new perspective about the challenges he faced. "They taught me to deal with them in a more positive way and to use the resources that are available in the community." He also learned patience. "I realize that I can’t fix something — like that," he said, with a snap of his fingers. "It takes time."
The Healthy Dads program provides one-on-one and group support for fathers, so they can build positive, lasting relationships with their children. The program also provides education through a seven-week class, "Quenching the Father Thirst," that follows the National Center for Fathering’s curriculum. The program, which is provided through a grant from the Kansas Department for Children and Families, is offered at the jail, Lawrence Community Shelter and Health Department.
According to research, children without a father figure in their lives are more likely to experience increased rates of poverty, teen pregnancy, crime, substance abuse, poor health and emotional problems. Marquez said, "When dads are involved in their children’s lives, the children’s success is higher. They are more confident and have higher self-esteem."
During an interview in December, Ricley said he had "done a total turnaround" in his life. He was working two jobs and attending Alcoholics Anonymous classes. He said he had been sober for six months. He was saving money to hire a lawyer in hopes of seeing his children again. Additionally, he had earned a certificate for completing the "Quenching the Fatherhood Thirst" class.
"Time is too short in this life. The kids are ultimately the ones who suffer if you don’t do the right things," Ricley said. "I take my responsibility as a parent seriously. I want an opportunity to build their lives up, to nurture them and give them the tools they need to succeed."