Dovetail Project gives young father his wings

Earnest Hale, 25, has a job that takes guts to keep. As a surgical patient assistant at the University of Chicago Medicine, he cleans the operating rooms. For three years, Earnest has held the job while juggling the demands of parenting his three-year-old son, Adyn. It doesn’t leave this young dad time for much sleep with school pickups and drop offs and sometimes hectic daily routines, he said.

Parenting, Earnest acknowledges, is the biggest job he will ever have and is thankful for parenting and job skills he learned through the Dovetail Project, to motivate him to become a stable father.

“Dovetail helped me see the reasons to work and put my priorities in line,” he explained.

Established in the Woodlawn community, the Dovetail Project teaches young African American fathers between the ages of 17-24, life and parenting skills, and their rights as fathers and U.S. citizens. The participants receive a certificate of completion during a cap and gown graduation ceremony as well as paid GED enrollment if needed, job readiness skills and a $300 stipend.

Dovetail Project Founder Sheldon Smith was named to the Top 10 of the 2016 CNN Heroes competition. Voting ends Dec. 6, 2016. The Hero with the most votes will be announced during the live 10th Annual All-Star Tribute on Dec. 11, 2016. (Image courtesy of cnn.com.)

Founder Sheldon Smith, a community organizer who was also once a young father, decided to launch the initiative to help young fathers pursue better futures and avoid incarceration.   Smith’s work has earned applause around the country and a nomination for 2016 CNN Hero of the Year.  He is also a grant recipient of the University of Chicago’s Community Accelerator Program. Since 2010, about 150 young men – more than half of them from Woodlawn – have gone through the 12-week program.

Joining the program and meeting Dovetail’s founder Sheldon Smith changed the course of Earnest’s life. “I didn’t have a father in my life and Sheldon was like a brother and mentor to me,” he said. “I learned so much from him and the program about being accountable and being involved in the community.”

Earnest has come a long way in a relatively short period of time since he was a 21-year-old new father with no male role models around to show him how to raise his son. On a typical day, Earnest takes his son to preschool at 8:45 a.m., then picks him up at 11:45 a.m., for the ride home. He said he goes over his son’s homework, squeezes in chores and some sleep before starting his job at 5 p.m. “I really appreciate the time I have with him because it’s his first year at preschool and he’s starting to come home saying new words.”

Between his son and job, Ernest still manages to find time to volunteer at Dovetail and is considering opening his own business, possibly a youth center focused on music. He wants other young men to get the same opportunities that he earned. Earnest advises young fathers to be patient when seeking mentors and role models. “Even if you feel like you want to give up, it’s not over,” he said. “Somebody will be there.”

Originally posted December 5, 2016.

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