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Young men get help as fathers Program instills reliable conduct


ANNAPOLIS -- A year ago, Marvin Cole Jr. suddenly realized his son's life was going to be exactly like his.

And that was the worst thing he could imagine.

Mr. Cole, 23, had lost his mother when he was 2. His father had been in jail much of his youth. Marvin III, 5 at the time, had lost his mother in a homicide. And, given that Mr. Cole was using and dealing drugs, jail seemed a likely outcome for him.

Instead, Mr. Cole joined the Young Fathers Program of Annapolis, recruited by another former drug dealer, James Butler, who was "a guy I used to hang with," he said. Mr. Butler is the case manager for the program, which helps young men, ages 16 to 25, accept the responsibilities of fatherhood.

The program assists the men in job hunting and will even try to put them in alcohol or drug rehabilitation. Participants also are encouraged to finish their high school education.

"It's a core solution to a lot of our [society's] problems," said David A. Ladd, an assistant director at the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.

Originally part of a six-city pilot program nationwide, the Young Fathers Program in Annapolis began 18 months ago with a limited private grant, in partnership with the Baltimore-based Friends of the Family Inc. It managed to survive this summer when the state agreed to pick up its $44,000-a-year cost, which includes Mr. Butler's salary. Yesterday, Anne Arundel County donated a 15-passenger van worth $17,000 to shuttle more than 50 participants to and from job-training programs.

Unfortunately, said Helen Szablya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, there is no money to start the program in other Maryland jurisdictions.

"The reality of budgets are -- well, we're gratified the program is working here," said Ms. Szablya. "This is a non-mandated program, and you know what that means -- no money."

Mothers, no matter their age, receive help through mandated programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (commonly known as welfare), and have chances to find jobs through the state's welfare-to-work program. But the fathers are the forgotten ones, unless they fail to pay court-ordered child support.

For Mr. Cole, child support was not an issue because his son lives with Mr. Cole's grandmother. But he realizes now he still had a lot to learn about being a father.

"Some guys, they think they're missing something by spending time with their children," said Mr. Cole, who goes to see Marvin every day, as soon as he gets off work from Taco Bell.

The job at Taco Bell doesn't pay much, certainly not enough for Mr. Cole to start bringing up Marvin on his own. But he hopes to take care of him eventually. His fondest dream is to send him to military school.

Mr. Butler, who has five children, says the young men who come to the program know how to buy their children things, but their parenting skills stop there.

"They know they have a problem," he said. "We teach more than being a father, we teach them to be a man."

Mr. Butler speaks from experience. He started as one of the first participants in Young Fathers, then found his former career as a drug-dealer put him at a unique advantage for recruiting others.

He now wants to be a social worker, although he still has to earn his high school equivalency.

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