Long Island City, NY—August 29, 2013— Jesus Benitz knew he wanted to make a change in his life. The 21-year old had dropped out of high school in his senior year when he became a father at 17 and for the past four years was working full-time as a cashier.
“I didn’t want to keep working for a $200 check,” said the Bronx resident who is raising his son on his own, “and I wanted more for my son.”
Upon researching GED and college prep programs, he decided last March to enroll in the CUNY Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a free 16-week program funded by New York’s Young Men’s Initiative and the Open Society Foundations to help young fathers gain academic and parenting skills. Offered are classes in GED preparation, college discovery and parenting, along with work experience through part-time jobs or internships.
Jesus earned his GED in June, enrolled in the college’s College Discovery program in the summer and this September will be a full-time LaGuardia student pursuing a degree in computer programming and systems.
“It has changed everything,” said a grateful Jesus who extended a thank you to Mayor Bloomberg for initiating the program. “The support and encouragement that the faculty and staff gave me helped to boost my confidence and to show me I can make a better life for me and my son.” With a touch a pride, he added, “I also received a parenting diploma.”
The Fatherhood Academy has changed everything for many of 113 young fathers who have gone through the program since it was launched in 2012. And this September, some 40 young fathers will be starting the program.
Over CFA’s first year, 65% of graduates have been placed in jobs or internships, and 43% have either enrolled in college or earned their GED. Program retention has also improved dramatically, increasing from 68% last year to 88%.
Among the 60 graduates who enrolled in the last two classes in the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013, two are already enrolled in LaGuardia and three more will be attending in the fall. In addition, 23 passed the G.E.D. exam and 23 obtained employment.
“It’s incredible to see the transformation that many of our young men go through during the four months as they become who they aspire to be as men and as fathers,” said Raheem Brooks, the program coordinator.
Mr. Brooks added that having the program based in LaGuardia is an enormous benefit to our fathers. “As they sit in our classrooms, walk through the hallways and share elevators with college students who look like them, they discover that higher education is not out of reach,” he said.
Seron Douglas, another recent grad who is a single dad of a four-year old, said,
“The program has helped me become a man. I grew up without a father so I had no one to look up to or to learn from. The academy taught me what a father teaches a son–how to speak to people and how to present myself. It changed my life.”
Seron, who is waiting for his test results on his GED exam, said the program not only focuses on academics, it also takes an interest in the students’ personal life. In his case, the program helped him apply for public assistance, food stamps, childcare and custody of his child.
And to get a job. Through the program, he landed a job as a bartender at the U.S. Open and after this stint he is hoping to find a part-time job with the help of the program.
“I am thinking about my future and my son’s future,” said Seron, “I will go to college, get a good job. I never talked like this before.”
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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more.