By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Sitting in the bleachers, James Atkins, shouts advice to his 10-year-old son from the sidelines, “Go left. Hit him hard!”
The 43-year-old accountant sets aside time every day to attend the youngster’s PAL football practices. Like most proud fathers, he gloats when the youngster tackles his opponent and scores a touchdown for his team. But, what makes Atkins different from other fathers is that he’s not the boy’s biological father, nor is he his step-father, uncle or another relative. He’s a mentor that the boy looks up to as a father figure.
“I met (the child) about three years ago, at a local supermarket,” explains Atkins. “He was standing outside offering to carry groceries to the car for a little change. I asked his name and gave him a few dollars. Each time I would go to the market, the boy was there. One day his mother came up to the store to pick up the money he had made. I took her to the side and offered to mentor the boy. We spoke several times over the phone, and I provided her with a background check. His father hasn’t been in his life, since birth. His uncles aren’t involved in his life. There were no male role models to guide him, so I offered. The rest is history.”
The youngster is not alone in living in a fatherless home. According to statistics published in “Census Brief” released by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration, “more than a quarter of America’s children now live with one parent.”
Although Atkins is married and has three teenage sons, his entire family has embraced the youngster with open arms.
“When it’s game day, we all attend to support him,” adds Atkins. “He’s a member of our family and even calls me Dad.”
Like Atkins, men across the country are manning up to help fatherless boys.
“A daddy isn’t defined as the man who makes the child, but rather a man who extends his hands and time to help with the child’s raising and his heart to love the child through anything,” wrote one mentor. “Blood doesn’t always make you a daddy. Being a daddy comes from the heart. Any fool can make a baby, but it takes a man to raise a child!”
Three-time Daytime Emmy Award winner and television host, two-time best-selling author and celebrated radio host Steve Harvey also sees the need to mentored fatherless boys and kicked off his 8th annual Steve Harvey Mentoring Program for Young Men National Camp that runs through June 12th.
The camp is hosted by the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation, which invited 220 fatherless young men from across the country to Camp Grace in Roberta, Georgia to participate in an informative, interactive and transformative mentoring camp experience.
"I have always tried to use my platform as a means to serve my community," said Harvey. "I am indebted to the panel of role models donating their time and our sponsors that have allowed us to host this camp experience for seven years now. Seeing our mentees grow into fine and respectable young men, with many returning to camp to volunteer makes it all worth it."
For the youngsters with father figures, they say it is worth it valuing their mentors’ time and efforts. Those with strong male role models are less likely to engage in illegal activities, drop out of school and father children out of wedlock.
“I didn’t have a father. So all my life, I imagined a man and how he would be my father. It’s the closest thing I had to a real father,” said Atkins’ mentee. “Now, I don’t have to pretend to have a father anymore. I now have a dad, who’s a great father figure.”
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