Jeff Usher was the smallest kid on his 7th grade football team, spending more time on the sidelines than on the playing field. One day as a gentle rain turned into a downpour, Jeff looked at the handful of faithful spectators getting drenched. As he expected, his dad was one of them.
Jeff likes to tell that story as an illustration, not just of the kind of man his father was, but about the importance of a caring adult in a child’s life.
“The power of presence,” Jeff calls it.
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Fifty years later, Jeff is still taking his father’s quiet message to heart. After raising a son and a daughter and seeing firsthand the pleasures and responsibilities of being present in their lives, Jeff has expanded his vision to include children in the Charlotte Mecklenburg schools. His non-profit volunteer organization, Be There Dad, is currently assisting 14 elementary schools and two middle schools, helping fathers and other concerned adults find ways to serve children, their schools, and the community.
Participating dads do a variety of activities depending on the schools’ needs. Many monitor daily car pool lines, helping to keep children safe. In some schools, Be There Dads are mentors and reading buddies. Most groups sponsor father-daughter dances or Donuts for Dads. They provide the muscle at clean up days and help with field days, fun runs, and science nights. Some Be There Dads serve breakfast, assist students at lunch, and read to students in classrooms.
Be There Dad also partners with other groups such as Let Me Run, All Pro Dad, and local PTAs.
This year, up to 13,000 children were impacted in positive ways by Be There Dad. The dads who volunteered time and energy at their children’s schools were also nurturing role models for every child there.
The children weren’t the only ones to benefit. Fathers who are actively involved in their children’s lives are happier, too. And the schools and the community gain not only helping hands, but people who take the Be There Dad message seriously: “Nobody wins until we all do.”
As a public school teacher who believes that education is part of the common good, I appreciate the important role that groups such as Be There Dad play in our students’ success. No one disputes the critical role parents play in children’s lives. Children are far more successful in school when they have actively engaged parents who keep up with their progress and communicate regularly with their teachers.
But not all children are so lucky. For them, the men of Be There Dad are sometimes the strongest adult presence in their lives, making them feel valued and worthwhile.
It’s not too soon for dads and other adults committed to making a difference in a child’s life to join or start a Be There Dad group. Interested parents can contact their school’s administrator or Jeff Usher directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jeff has also written a book with anecdotes about his own parenting and coaching experience, with suggestions for how to relate in more meaningful ways with the children in our lives.
On August 17 all of the Be There Dad groups will have a meet-up movie night at Huntersville Elementary. It will be an opportunity to enjoy a family friendly show while networking with other parents and community leaders before the school year gets underway. Anyone interested in learning more about Be There Dads is also invited.
McSpadden teaches high school English in York, S.C. Reach her at email@example.com.