An Orangeburg-based maternal wellness program is branching out to build character, confidence and life skills among young males with the launch of its first fatherhood initiative.

LCHS created “Opportunity Knocks” for 12- to 25-year-old males in Allendale, Bamberg, Hampton and Orangeburg counties in order to promote responsible fatherhood and healthy relationships among them.

“In 2007, the National Healthy Start Association decided that we needed to take a look at the directors of each one of the projects and our service area and decide whether we needed to incorporate a male involvement piece as a core service. And so we did. We looked at our service area and looked at the needs,” LCHS program director Virginia Berry White said.

White said many males were missing education in life skills and needed more hands-on training in how to become not just better fathers, but better men.

“We’re now looking at the many things that are happening in the community with your young men,” she said. “They are becoming fathers so very early in life and not knowing even how to take care of themselves. We decided there was something else that we needed to do. “

“Opportunity Knocks” is a free program through which participants will attend six 90-minute sessions titled “Who Am I?,” “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus,” “Change is Good,” “Relationship Issues,” “Who’s Watching You?” and “Career Building.”

The sessions will be held at 6 p.m. in the Prince of Orange Mall’s community rooms and be conducted by male community leaders. The first session will begin Tuesday, June 5, and be conducted by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members Carl Oliver and Larry Rivers. The remaining sessions will be held respectively on Tuesday, June 26; Thursday, July 19; Thursday, Aug. 9; Thursday, Aug. 23, and Thursday, Sept. 6.

Oliver, who is also board president for the Orangeburg Area Sickle Cell Foundation, said he got involved because the fatherhood initiative mirrors the Project Alpha initiative that is already tailored to males ages 12 to 18 to provide education, motivation and skill-building on issues of responsibility, relationships, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We partner with the March of Dimes in that, and teach males conflict resolution and how to dress appropriately,” he said. “If you want someone to respect you in a certain way, there’s certain skills you need.”

Oliver said his session will include a panel-type discussion to get males to “start thinking constructively about who they are.”

Orangeburg resident and community activist Joe White will conduct the session “Who’s Watching You?” with barber Cory Williams.

“What I focus on is the guys who didn’t get a chance to go to college or didn’t play basketball because they weren’t good enough,” White said. “I go out and help these guys get back in school and get a GED. We show them how to prepare a resumé, pass an interview and give them hope to try to make it in other areas. We will actually go around and seek employment for these young males.”

Dr. Ronald Speight, interim dean for the College of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences at South Carolina State University and president of the alumni chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, will conduct the “Career Building” session.

“The fraternity has a black male initiative called the Sigma Beta Club, where we target middle school and high school boys and other young men in the areas of mentoring and tutoring,” Speight said. “As a fraternity of primarily black men, we surely felt it was incumbent upon us to participate (in ‘Opportunity Knocks’).”

Howard Jackson, director of Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections, is a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, which runs a week-long summer boys camp called “A Better Me” for males ages 8 to 14. Jackson will lead the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” session, which he said will include some role playing among participants.

He said his fraternity considered the “Opportunity Knocks” initiative to be a worthwhile endeavour.

“A lot of males, especially black males, are raised in a single-parent home. We’d like to reach out to those guys and share our experiences with them, and let the know that even though they were raised in a single-parent home, that’s not necessarily a sentence to go out and commit crime and not graduate,” Jackson said. “We just try to show them positive black role models in the community.”

Virginia Berry White said program participants must complete all six sessions before being awarded certificates during the LCHS’s annual Infant Mortality Awareness Luncheon on Sept. 14. She said the fatherhood initiative will become a core service of the organization.

“I think it’s going to go a long way,” White said. “It shows us as partners in our community.”

For more information on the fatherhood initiative, call LCHS at 803-531-8008.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534.


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