Summit 10: Increasing Parental Engagement

Childs Park YMCA, located at 691 43rd St. S., played host Sat., March 22 to the Parent Support For Education Council’s 10th Parent Summit on increasing parental engagement. This time the emphasis was on dads and what they can do to bring success to their children.

“This is important because the mind of a child is very pliable,” said Pastor Don Middleton of New Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. He believes when parents get caught up in emotion, the truth can sometimes get muddled and cause children to have an untruthful view of their situation and life in general. “They believe the examples that are put before them.”

Although Pastor Martin Rainey along with the rest of the Parent Support For Education Council (PSFEC) puts on summits a few times a year in an effort to support and motivate parents to become more involved in the day-to-day activities of their child’s education and social dealings, dad’s were the hot topic for #10. And Middleton wasted no time in getting to the crux of the matter.

“The fathers that I want to talk about today, many of them are not here,” he said. “Many of them are out breaking into somebody’s house, possibly getting ready to be in a position that can put them in a grave.”

Summit members agreed that fathers have turned into a delicacy of sorts. Especially in households where the parents are fresh into adulthood, basically still children themselves. Nearly 24 million single families exist in the United States alone as of 2012, according to, with an estimated 1.5 million absentee parents in Florida alone. And the number promises to steadily increase.

Some members of the discussion panel spoke up about what they feel is the problem. Summit panel member Andre Skelton believes that with more and more programs out there to support women when the baby’s father turns tail and run, it sets up an attitude amongst the men that they are not needed in the rearing of their children.

“Public assistance is designed to keep fathers out of the household,” said Skelton who believes that if the government pays for housing, food, and other items, it sets up a cycle of dependency with the government that both mothers and fathers begin to rely on in order to support their kids.

When asked what the solution is, Skelton revealed his own childhood experience of growing up without a father in the home. Forgiveness.

“You forgive someone to break that generational curse that’s on you,” he said. He confided in having a childhood where day-after-day he witnessed his mom struggle with the burden of putting food on the table and providing the necessities of life.The burden of surviving in a broken home.

“I didn’t realize at the time how angry I was because my dad wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “All I knew was dad wasn’t there.”

When he got older and had kids of his own, Skelton realized he was holding onto that anger in his heart. His inability to forgive was turning him into the very same person that he despised so much. “I had become that father that wasn’t around, that saw his kids on the weekend and thought he was a good dad.”

What was his solution? Communication.

Skelton took the conversation back to his father and let him know how badly his absence had scarred him. Releasing his anger made Skelton a better father. So the discussion veered toward how to get the young fathers in the African-American community to start talking. Middleton knows the youths aren’t showing up on the church doorstep asking to be saved. He gathers they weren’t raised in the church system so they won’t lean on it in times of need. So what to do to reach them?

Head to their hangouts and be supportive.

“Most of them are not going to come to the places where the help is available, so we got to be where they are,” said the pastor who plans to hit the streets, the corner stores and the like in an effort to break the bondages that prevent the young, absent fathers from being a productive parent. “Who’s going to have the courage to engage these young men, start a conversation with them about life?”

Middleton also addressed community views and called for the church to stop worrying about whether the youth have their pants hanging down to their ankles and focus more on making them feel worthy and capable of being good fathers.

“Judgment meets them at the door,” he said. “We are making them offended and making them go away.”

Calvin Williams, a schoolteacher, feels confident if the putdowns about black men being worthless will cease, the tide will turn to more fathers being involved in the lives of their own children.

“When people talk about black men, usually it’s something negative, and that comes from all spheres, including black women,” he said. He suggests getting together and opening up the lines of communication, creating a safe haven where men will feel comfortable showing their vulnerability and discussing the problems they face.

He encourages family members, mentors, and anyone who has access to a child to be genuine and speak from the heart. In time, trust will be built and the young men, and women, will open up and discuss what they are afraid to voice.

Vendors from all around town were there with information on programs offered throughout the community for parents to improve their situation and relationship with their children. From Next Stepp Life Center to the Juvenile Welfare Board, organizations stepped up to tell about available assistance that is currently provided for those in need of guidance.

Assistance with tutoring options, mentors, available school programs, as well as, supporting your child’s education at home can be found through Pinellas County Schools. The Juvenile Welfare Board is also available to support families. There is also help for those needing assistance with bus passes or food. Help can be accessed by dialing 211.

The Next Stepp Life Center provides support for both women and men as well. PSFEC can also connect you with the programs in the area dedicated to helping parents get it right. And for a series of free workshops geared at helping boys and men navigate the tumultuous waters of life, interested persons can call (727) 327-6081 to find out how to participate.

Pastor Rainey serves as president of PSFEC and Chairman of JWB South County Community Council. He may be contacted at or (727) 420-1326.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email

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