fatherconferenceApril 4, 2017 -- County Executive Robert P. Astorino today kicked-off Westchester’s Third Annual New York Fathering Conference with a message for dads: Juggling all of the responsibilities of work, life and parenting is difficult, but children need proper role models to succeed. It’s vital for our children, families and communities, he said.

“By being here today – by getting up early and devoting our day to this conference – we’re sending a powerful message. We’re saying that fathers are important,” Astorino told the crowd of several hundred people in attendance at the Westchester County Center. “Fathers play a critical role not only for our children and families, but for society at large. And we’re saying that we’re ready to learn, become better dads, and be the positive role models our children need. That is an important message.”

This year’s theme was “Ready to Work: Navigating Home, Job and Community,” and included an array of inspiring speakers, experts and fathers who have turned their lives around. The day-long program included 21 workshops on topics such as job retraining, hiring trends, navigating government programs, men’s health and wellness, parenting skills, and ways to better engage fathers, many of whom face issues like poverty, imprisonment, drug and alcohol abuse, lack of an education, teenage pregnancy or a host of other challenges that often lead to children being raised by a single mother with no father present.

The keynote speaker was Mike Brady, president and chief executive officer of Greyston, a leading social enterprise organization known for its world-renowned Greyston Bakery that provides employment opportunities for everybody, regardless of one’s background or work history, so that they can help people get back to work, overcome obstacles and lift people out of poverty.

Greyston, for example, employs a model of partnership, collaborations and goal-setting to help their workers succeed not only on the job, but in life. “We’re only concerned with what people can do in the future. We’re not concerned with their past.”

Fathering conferenceAs president of Greyston Bakery in Yonkers for four years, Brady drove strategic business development with long-standing partner Ben & Jerry’s and with new partners such as Whole Foods Market. During this time, the Bakery realized nearly 100 percent revenue growth and became New York State’s first registered Benefit Corporation. Brady recently took responsibility for all Greyston’s programs and businesses, including Workforce Development, Community Gardens, Housing, Health Services and Early Learning Center.

“We’re all on a path,” Brady told the crowd. “We may be on different paths, but we should all be helping each other to be successful on that path.”

Dion Drew, an assistant supervisor at Greyston Bakery and a proud father, shared his story of turning a life of drugs, jail, frustration and hopelessness around with the help of the Yonkers-based bakery and social enterprise group. “I never thought a bakery could do this for me ... When you give somebody a job, you give them a second chance,” Drew said. “Being a father is the greatest thing that ever happened to me – after getting a job at Greyston.”

Learn more about Drew’s story with Greyston here.

Following Brady’s morning keynote address was a panel discussion that focused on the theme of the conference. Panelists included:

  • Moderator: Donald Somerville, The Children’s Village
  • Mike Brady, President and CEO, Greyston
  • Dion Drew, Greyston Bakery employee and father
  • Rosa Boone, DSS Deputy Commissioner
  • Alphonso Simmons – R.E.A.L. Parenting Program Coordinator/Family Services of Westchester

The event was organized by the New York Fathering Conference Planning Committee, which is a collaboration of government and non-profit leaders. The conference is part of Astorino’s ongoing #DadBeThere fatherhood initiative. The goal is to target the full spectrum of fathers, from those who are present in the home to those who are not.

One of the highlights of Astorino’s fatherhood initiative is the R.E.A.L. Parenting Program, which is helping participants to find and keep employment, manage their child support payments, improve their parenting and relationship skills and most importantly, to be the positive role models their children and families need. Spearheaded by the Department of Social Services and developed with the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and others, the centerpiece of the R.E.A.L. Parenting Program is that the county will cut the debt dads owe to DSS as they successfully complete specific milestones.

For instance, if they complete the parenting and employment training, they will get a 25 percent reduction on the arrears owed to DSS. If they find a job and keep it for 90 days, they will get another 25 percent reduction. And if they pay their child support for a year, then their total payment will be dropped to $500. To learn more, visit www.westchestergov.com/dadbethere or view the county’s R.E.A.L. Parenting video below:

In Westchester County, approximately 50,000 children live with a single mother and have no father present. Roughly one-third, or 16,000 children, live below the poverty line. This county program is aimed at reversing the tide, and setting up the circumstances where men can work together, succeed and be there for their children and families.

“We can’t thank single mothers, grandparents, extended families and foster families enough,” Astorino said. “But the role of a father is vital to families and to making our communities stronger.”