Healthy Start held their fourth annual cooking competition Saturday, June 10 at the All Children’s Education & Conference Center in an effort to help foster father/children relationships.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – “I’m hungry and I like to eat,” said Janelle Garcia, one of three judges lucky enough to sit at the fourth annual Dads Cook Too! food competition sponsored by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
“The whole purpose of this event is to get dads to spend more time with their children,” explained Kimberly Brown-Williams, project director for the Healthy Start program at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
The mission of the Healthy Start program is to improve the health and well being of women, children and families, and included in those families are fathers. The father service component is called Raising Your MENtality and is a support group for men of all ages who are raising families.
The group meets every third Thursday from 11-2 p.m. and discusses a wide range of topics from child support to mental health on down to introspective training and trauma informed care.
“This is a group where they can express themselves and get and give advice,” said Brown-Williams.
She gave an example where one of the group’s participants was so despondent over not having money to buy his child a birthday gift that he wanted to go out and commit robbery. Hearing this, the men in the group got together and bought his son birthday presents.
“This was a way for this group of men to come together and rally around another young man who was in a desperate state…That’s the purpose of the group, to provide that support and be a platform for their voice,” she said.
Participants aren’t sitting in a circle crying for four hours. Raising Your MENtality brings in community resources such as lawyers to help the dads navigate through the family court system, nurses with health answers, resources to help with finding jobs, housing and getting an education.
Service Specialist Rashid Mizelle, Sr. said the program is designed to work with men and fathers in the community on parenting and goal setting. He even makes house calls.
“Society always says that men and fathers, especially black men, are not involved with their kids. For the gentlemen I meet, they want to be with their kids but don’t know how to,” said Mizelle, who also meet fathers who do not realize the importance they bring to their child. “My job is to help them see and encourage them.”
The Raising Your MENtality support group also brings successful fathers and men into mentor group participants. This encourages the dads and lets them know that they are important.
“I love the program,” said Mizelle, Sr., who has worked there for 14 years.
He does face challenges, usually in the beginning, when he shows up on their doorsteps. Many are suspicious thinking he’s with the police or a probation officer.
“Once you get past that wall, they open up and tell you a lot of things that are going on relationship-wise, parenting or things that’s happened to them in the past,” he said. “For a lot of them, it feels good to vent and get some of the stress of them and talk to somebody.”
The program has been around for nearly a decade and a half, but the cooking competition is only in its fourth year. The idea came about when Brown-Williams and her colleagues realized that some of the men were competitive in nature.
And competitive they were. Each participant thought he had the winning dish. There was no entrance fee, but they had to purchase their own ingredients and prepare the meals off-site.
This year, three out of the four competitors were repeat participants. Contestant Stephen Williams was roped into competing when his girlfriend signed him up. He enjoyed himself and said he will most likely join the support group.
Calvin Williams took home the top honors this year for his Creamy Grits and Beef dish. He’s been a participant in the men’s group for some 10 years. He joined when he kept seeing negative portrayals of black men in the media and wanted to become a part of a group of men who were dispelling those negative images.
“We need to tell who we are so people don’t tell us who we are. We are dads, we’re uncle, we’re husbands, we’re family and community leaders,” said the father of one. “We are just as positive, if not more positive, than other groups in the world.”
Next year’s competition is already in the works; Brown-Williams plans to take it back outside and revisit a grilling/barbecue theme.
If you’d like to become a member of the Raising Your MENtality support group or if being a part of a group is not your thing and you’d rather one-on-one case management service, just contact Rashid Mizelle, Sr. at 727-767-6780.