Chicago project helps young men become better fathers

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FOX 32 NEWS - Chicago is a city divided -- split into two cities by violence and crime.

And now, there’s a project that helps young men in the community become better fathers.

For Sheldon Smith, one of the greatest joys in his life is his daughter, 8-year-old Jada. She’s also his biggest priority.

Smith grew up with an absentee father, fell into the wrong crowd and at the age of 17, was charged with robbery and went to prison.

"64% of African American children grow up in a single household and our goal is to break the cycle,” Smith said.

Smith has now reconciled with his father, but is trying to break that cycle for others. He’s doing this through his non-profit organization called ‘The Dovetail Project.’

It’s a 12 week program that teaches men the skills to be positive role models and responsible parents.

"They've started out behind, not having that male role model and figure there. Fatherhood does not come with a manual and parenting isn't easy, and we provide them with that view they need to continue to succeed in being a great parent,” Smith said.

Earnest Hale is one of more than 240 men who have completed the program. Hale also grew up with an absentee father and had an unstable life. When his son Aiden was born three years ago, he knew it was time clean up his life.

"I felt like I needed direction and through my years I always searched for a mentor and once I met with Sheldon I found what I was looking for,” Hale said.

Through The Dovetail Project, young men like Hale not only learn parenting and life skills, but they also learn about felony street laws. The purpose is to help these young men avoid incarceration and stay present in their children's lives.

"When people talk about parenting, they talk about mothers and children, which is a soft and fuzzy thing,” Smith said. “That's a myth, men need help and support too as well."

Hale says Dovetail has shaped who he is today, both as a father and a man.

"I always wanted to be better than my father and I hope my son becomes better than me,” Hale said.

This program is geared toward young men between the ages of 17-24. Once they finish, the goal is to help them get a job or their GED and they are given a $300 dollar stipend.

The Dovetail Projects motto is “Better Fathers, Brighter Futures.”