Program Partnerships

"I’ve realized how much it means to have my children comfortable enough to confide in me."
~ Aaron S.

REEL FATHERS’ programs have four strategies or “tracks:”

Fathers and Young Children

Dads and Kids Movie Night

REEL FATHERS’ original and now signature program is Dads and Kids Movie Night. Produced in partnership with Head Start centers and elementary schools, the program serves low-income men, many of whom are recently arrived immigrants. These men have a keen wish for their children to succeed. They want to be a positive, loving force in their children’s lives. But they have only a limited or conflicted sense of how to do that. They are routinely marginalized or ignored by personnel in government agencies, schools and hospitals. Though they wish for a larger role in their children’s lives, they are often relegated to breadwinner and disciplinarian within their families. Dads and Kids Movie Night  (DKMN) responds directly to the needs of these men as they strive to be skillful,
loving parents.

REEL FATHERS--Dads and Kids Night: Father speaks with 2 children during art project

A DKMN event impacts a father from the first invitation by school staff –

This is special. Just for dads and kids...that means you! Because you’re important to your child and to this school. Come share popcorn and watch a video with your child. Do an art project together about the story. Talk with other men about what it’s like to be a dad. Learn from each other. Be encouraged and inspired. Have a delicious dinner together…have fun!

The men respond by coming. It’s not unusual for us to have 35 or more fathers (and father figures) and as many kids attend an event.

The video – an engaging, animated children’s story – is the focal point of the event. Each story is produced in both English and Spanish. We show the Spanish version first and provide a translator throughout the event for Spanish speakers. Each video is based on and accompanied by a children's book -- the children watch the video and read the book numerous times before the event, promoting their literacy. The children’s story has a core of wisdom relating in some way to fathers and families. Dads take in the notion that a story is a storehouse of wisdom – a source of guidance and inspiration.

Following the screening, each dad and his child do a simple art project together – a colored drawing, painted clay sculpture, hand puppet, or musical activity inspired by the story they’ve just watched. After the activity the dads gather in a circle for a dialogue with – the heart of the program. The RF facilitator creates a safe “container” for the discussion. He begins by reminding the men of their fundamental importance to their children. When a father is involved in his child’s life, all the indicators of social well-being go up. Then he asks “What did you see in the video?”

REEL FATHERS--Dads and Kids Night: Dads share stories and strategies during group dialogue

The dads are quick to catch the metaphors and readily relate the story to issues they face with their children and partners. Men who have never sat in a circle with other men share from their hearts the deep joy they feel in being a father – and the very real difficulties. They trade stories, strategies and fun activities they do with their children. They build community and give each other appealing new images for being an involved father.

The RF facilitator calls attention to the heartfelt, reflective quality of the dialogue. The men express their appreciation for this way of communicating – new to most of them. The facilitator points out some of the key qualities of the dialogue the dads can bring into their conversations with their children and partners. These are simple practices that can transform relationships:

  • Listening without interrupting
  • Suspending judgment while listening
  • Building on what someone else has said
  • Asking a thoughtful question to go deeper and learn more
  • Offering a different point of view, but not in argument
  • Speaking from experience, not an idea
  • Speaking from the heart…letting one’s heart show
  • Showing they’re interested in and care about what someone has said
  • Having a sense of humor – laughing in appreciation

From Head Start to Elementary School -- Ramirez Thomas

Ramirez Thomas

In spring 2013 REEL FATHERS brought its Head Start program Dads and Kids Movie Night to a Santa Fe elementary school for the first time -- Ramirez Thomas. The pilot program was one of the many creative actions taken by the school to increase parent involvement using federal "turnaround" funds. Because the school provides numerous enrichment programs for its Spanish-speaking parents, principal Robin Noble selected RF's Dads and Kids Movie Night as a special offering for the school's English-speaking families. 

The fathers were joined each week by a number of male teachers and staff members, many of them fathers themselves. The program was positively received. The school knows that engaging fathers with their children's learning in the earliest years can be a powerful way to boost a child's academic achievement. A 4-year plan for a progression of RF programs has been developed and will be implemented once funding is secured.

Fathers and Mothers in Focus

Fathers and Mothers in Focus

After two years of inviting mothers to join the final session of a Dads and Kids Night program, REEL FATHERS saw the potential to have a greater impact on family systems by creating a new program -- Fathers and Mothers in Focus. We doubled the number of weeknight sessions from three to six, added a half-day Saturday retreat, focused on communication and relationship skills, and included mothers a greater percentage of the time. The result is a father-centered parenting skills program for both fathers and mothers with their children.

Through a contract with the NM Department of Health/Maternal and Child Health Division, we produced the pilot program in partnership with YDI-Head Start for their centers in Rio Arriba County. Dads attended all seven sessions; mom attended four of the six weeknight sessions and the half-day retreat.

Fathers and Mothers in FocusThe purpose of Fathers and Mothers in Focus is threefold. First, to support fathers to actively love, nurture and care for their children -- and to find joy and satisfaction in doing so. Second, to give fathers the parenting skills needed to be equal and effective co-parents with their partners. And third, to work with moms and dads together to create more positive communication within their families.

Leader and participant discussion guides were developed for each of the seven videos presented. These guides identify the parenting issues each story addresses, and the parenting skills each story provides a natural springboard for teaching. At the Saturday retreat, couples were given experiential listening exercises. Each couple identified the most important core value for their family and created a values "map" with action steps to make this value real within the family. Some of the parenting issues/skills couples focused on:

  • Children's need for boundaries and how to negotiate those boundaries...
  • Managing the multiple roles of father -- leader, partner, friend and companion...
  • Understanding relationship as the true source of parental authority...

An evidence-based evaluation procedure documented the value that each couple found in the program. It revealed that couples made the reflective listening and communication exercises their own, with a positive effect on their families. REEL FATHERS is currently seeking funding to bring Fathers and Mothers in Focus to Head Start centers and elementary schools in Santa Fe.

Links to partnering organizations for Fathers with Young Children programs:

PMS-Head Start - Santa Fe
Youth Development Inc. (YDI) - Albuquerque/Espanola/Taos

Nonviolence Works Inc. (NVW) - Taos  
(formerly Men Engaged in Nonviolence)
Ramirez Thomas Elementary School - Santa Fe

At-Risk Youth

Fathers in Focus -- 9th Graders Explore "The Father Question"

At-Risk Youth

Whether a young person’s father has been absent or present in their lives, their relationship with their father is fundamentally important. Youth long to meet their father in a deeper, more meaningful way – to understand, heal, or simply come to terms with him.

To answer this need, REEL FATHERS has developed Fathers in Focus -- a 2-week Poetry intensive for 9th grade youth.

Week 1 is an in-school program that engages an entire 9th grade class each day in their English class. A team of poet mentors draws students into the subject of fathers by sharing the work of renowned poets. They invite students to reflect on their experience of their own father and/or father figure. They offer provocative writing prompts. Each day youth search their hearts and write what they find there. Then they stand up and share what they write.

Week 2 of the program is a voluntary, after-school performance intensive. Students work with
the two lead poet mentors to write and produce a dramatic group production of their work.
They present this production to their school community, then to 7th and 8th grade students at a community’s performing arts venue.

What happens?  Many youth feel liberated by expressing painful personal experience. Many are empowered as they discover and develop their unique personal voice. Many are inspired as they envision the experience of fatherhood they want for themselves. As youth listen to each other read their work out loud, often fighting back tears, they experience their common bonds – breaking down barriers of perceived differences that can give rise to alienation and bullying.

In 2017 REEL FATHERS will reach 400 freshmen at Capital High. On Thursday evening March 2, a group of some 20 students will present their work in the Capital auditorium for school and community members. The following morning of March 3 they will give a performance and talk-back at the Lensic Performing Arts Center for some 800 7th and 8th grade students and their teachers. In all, Fathers in Focus will provide a vivid, thought-provoking experience on the theme of fathers for more than 1300 individuals.

REEL FATHERS/Real Families

The first creative intensive – REEL FATHERS/Real Families – was produced in 2009 in partnership with Warehouse 21/Santa Fe Teen Arts Center, New Mexico GEAR UP and Transparent Films. For two weeks after school, 16 ninth graders at Capital and Pecos High Schools learned the skills of filmmaking and digital media by making a film about fathers.

Fathers in Focus/Adelante--Filmmaker Ed Radtke works with homeless youth to create radio pieces on theme of fathers

Students worked closely with independent filmmaker Ed Radtke (The Dream Catcher, The Speed of Life) to write their stories, cast, shoot, edit and title their works. During three Saturday afternoon sessions they met as a single group with Ed, parents, teachers, students and Don McAvinchey of REEL FATHERS. These sessions gave youth support around affecting issues related to fathers that arose during their productions.

Four mature documentary films were produced by the 16 youth, and a senior intern produced a behind-the-scenes documentary on the intensive:

The Runner  (1:54)
James Bunker and Andrew Romero. An imaginative depiction of a father's troubled response to his son's birth. *Selected by the 2009 Santa Fe Film Festival.

The Letter  (5:04)
Shantal Gurule, Dominic Ulibarri, Jessica Lopez, Samantha Sanchez. A young woman corresponds with her father in prison, tracing her life during his years of imprisonment. She expresses her pain and anger at his absence. Through the process of reflective thought and expression, her feelings transform by the end to loving forgiveness. *Selected with The Runner for Currents 2010 (avant-garde video artwork installation). We show The Letter to incarcerated fathers in our Phoenix Fathers program.

Three Fathers (10:31)
Adara Burdwell, Cheyenne Park, Melissa Gallegos. Three girls recount in vivid detail their experience of their natural fathers -- and for two of them, the life-changing, positive presence of their adoptive fathers.

A Prom Story  (7:09)
Andres Aragon, Angelica Cisneros, Brandie Lopez, Levi Martinez, Austin Monti, Claudia Reta, Stephen Varela. A girl preparing for her senior prom confides in her friends that she's pregnant, then has to share this news with her mother and father before her boyfriend arrives.

REEL FATHERS Uncut  (4:04)
Bianca Dominguez. A documentary capturing the dynamic interaction between filmmaker Ed Radtke and the 9th grade student filmmakers.

The great majority of the students reported that the project gave them a better understanding and appreciation of their father and inspired a wish to produce other creative work. Several of the students    embarked on new video projects of their own design.

Screen Youth Videos from REEL FATHERS/Real Families.

Fathers in Focus:  Homeless Youth Reflect on FathersREEL FATHERS-Fathers in Focus/Adelante-Youth huddle before broadcast party following radio production intensive for youth from homeless families

In 2011 REEL FATHERS produced its second youth intensive in partnership with Youth Media Project, Santa Fe Schools’ ADELANTE Program, and Northern New Mexico ENLACE (Engaging Latino Communities for Education). Nine homeless youth, ages 11-18, gathered over four months to reflect, write, and dialogue about their relationship with their fathers.

Seven of the nine created original work. The youth recalled memories, hopes, disappointments and traumas associated with their fathers -- challenging emotional territory that they explored in a supportive environment. For some, connecting with the pain caused by their fathers’ absence or maltreatment helped them grow and be stronger within themselves.  For others, the work brought a renewed appreciation or a deeper acceptance of their fathers.

Each of the youth recorded their pieces. A production team produced the additional elements for a broadcast-quality, one-hour radio program. It aired on June 15 of Father’s Day week on the local public radio station KSFR.101FM as part of Youth Media Project’s Audio Revolution series of youth-produced radio.

Fathers in Focus/Adelante--Homeless youth celebrate radio broadcast on theme of fathers

The youth’s courage and candor touch the listener. REEL FATHERS and Youth Media Project hosted two “listening parties” for staff, teachers, counselors and other interested community members. Youth commented on their work and answered questions with a poise that belied their years.

Excerpts from three of the youth's work provided a compelling documentary basis for REEL FATHERS' first PSA campaign on the 5 radio stations of Hutton Broadcasting. "Hello, Dad" won a PRX national award for excellence in youth radio.

Listen to selected work from the Fathers in Focus radio broadcast:

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