JOPLIN, Mo. —
Ben Hendrix, 8, got to share a special hour before school Wednesday with his father.
“Sometimes I don’t see him that often because he has to work, so I like hanging out with him,” said Ben, a third-grader at Eastmorland Elementary School.
His father, Jody Hendrix, equally appreciated the opportunity for some one-on-one time with his son.
“I really am just always looking for more reasons to spend quality time with my son,” Hendrix said after walking Ben to his classroom. “You get so much into the routine that it’s hard sometimes to find time (for) just me and him.”
Hendrix was one of more than 35 fathers who turned out with their children Wednesday morning at Eastmorland for All Pro Dad, a monthly event designed to help dads and their kids spend more time together. Participants were treated to breakfast, a chance to chat with each other about this month’s topic (spending quality time together), and an experiment with Mentos candies and Diet Coke (the result of combining the two: a geyser of soda).
Jarrod Newcomb, the father of three young children, launched the program at Eastmorland last year because he has a passion for the connection between dads and their kids, he said.
“The involvement of the dad plays a key role in their (children’s) success,” he said. “This program facilitates that involvement. Moms are awesome; they do a lot, but they’re not dad. Dads bring a different perspective to their kids’ lives.”
Karl Wendt, a marriage and family therapist and director of the Mount Hope Counseling Center, said a father’s presence in a child’s life has been shown to have positive effects on the child. Higher grades in school and higher self-esteem and less aggression in the child are more likely to be documented in children with involved fathers, he said.
“A couple of hours of special time with dad — what a difference that makes,” he said.
Wendt, who served Wednesday as a mentor, said the program is good both for fathers who already are involved in their children’s lives and for fathers who want to become more involved but aren’t sure how to do so.
“It’s an easy start for anybody who wants to get more involved,” he said.
Eastmorland Principal Heather Surbrugg said the program has grown “by leaps and bounds” since debuting last year with a total of 12 participants.
“It’s really increased our parent involvement; it’s brought the dads into the schools,” she said. “I feel like the dads are hopefully feeling more comfortable being in the school (because) our students need to feel supported wherever they are.”
All Pro Dad is expected to be in place at all Joplin elementary schools by next month, according to the district. Other local schools are also beginning to look into it.
Nathan Carson, the father of two young girls, plans to launch the program at his daughters’ school, College Heights Christian, as early as next week. He mingled in the background Wednesday morning, observing and gathering ideas.
Carson said he hopes the program will increase parental involvement at school, and help strengthen the bond between children and their fathers.
“For me personally, it’s an opportunity to establish a better relationship with my children,” he said.
All Pro Dad is a program of Family First, a national nonprofit organization with a focus on families. For more information about local efforts: allprodadjoplin.com.