Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Nonprofits, Blade put spotlight on great dads

8 area people receive White House honors

Fatherhood is getting a special focus.

For at least the next 12 months, Toledo officials plan to work with two groups, The Ridge Project and Hope 4 Toledo, to highlight more role models in the city and in other northwest Ohio communities. Both groups strive to address recidivism through more job opportunities for all, including ex-convicts.

Starting on Father’s Day, one person is to be recognized as this area’s Father of the Month.

Each person selected will be profiled in The Blade.

The regional salute is a continuation of what the Obama Administration began in the spring.

On May 3 at the Main Library, an administration representative honored eight northwest Ohio residents with national Fatherhood Heroes awards.

Fatherhood Heroes awards are part of a White House initiative to instill more pride in the male side of parenting.

Toledo was one of a dozen participating cities. It offered more than 30 nominations for the Fatherhood Heroes awards.

Some of those who were honored with one of the national awards — as well as some of those who will be recognized locally in coming months — are unconventional fathers.

Two of the national award recipients aren’t even male.

Women are eligible if they promote fatherhood, said Shirley Green, Toledo’s deputy mayor for public safety and personnel.

Such is the case for Catherine M. Tijerina and Lee Ann Campbell, two of this area’s first eight recipients of the national award.

Ms. Tijerina, Ridge Project co-founder and executive director, was recognized for her efforts in raising three children while her husband, Ron Tijerina, was incarcerated for 15 years on a rape conviction. He was released from prison in 2006.

The couple used the experience to form The Ridge Project, a nationally recognized nonprofit formerly based in Defiance.

Now based in McClure, Ohio, The Ridge Project offers a 36-week program for fathers in prison. It helps them develop their parenting skills while in custody.

The Ridge Project serves more than 4,000 inmates in 16 Ohio prisons through a program called Keeping Families and Inmates Together in Harmony, or Keeping FAITH.

“My wife was to my sons the father I was not,” Ron Tijerina said.

Ms. Campbell, a single mother of five children, was honored by the Obama Administration with a Fatherhood Heroes award for her work as a Lucas County Children Services board volunteer, as an intervention specialist at That Neighbor Church, and as founder of Rahab’s House, which provides outreach and mentoring services to women who are victims of human trafficking. She was reunited with her children in 2007 after temporarily losing custody of them.

“Fatherhood Heroes are a diverse group. They come from all walks of life,” Ms. Green said.

Other recipients of the national award include:

● Frank Torrez, a father of three children and Ridge Project employee who worked 35 years at General Motors. A Native American, he overcame illiteracy and now teaches classes on how to be a responsible father.

“My Dad has a deep passion for helping others to succeed, especially in family living, and he is also one of the most dependable people I know,” his daughter, Francesca Torrez, wrote.

● Jeff Wilbarger, a math teacher at Emmanuel Christian School and father of two children. He is director of The Daughter Project, which provides support for sex-trafficking victims.

“Jeff acknowledges that anything good in him comes from God, and it’s a joy for him to demonstrate God’s love to the girls brought to them at The Daughter Project,” Al Caperna of Affirm Global wrote.

● Norman Bell, Sr., a Baton Rouge native and former Toledo employee whose five children include Toledo Mayor Mike Bell. Norman Bell also has served 10 years as president of the University of Toledo’s African American Alumni Association, and as a member of the UT Alumni Association’s board of trustees.

● Ray Miller, owner of Vision Design Group and father of three children, described by the person who nominated him, Larome Myrick, as “a devoted Christian, father, friend, role model, mentor, and businessman.”

Added Mr. Myrick: “Ray is very active in the lives of other children and young people. Ray is an example of what a fatherhood hero looks like.”

● Mark Robinson, a Lourdes University professor and father of two children who co-created one of the first fatherhood initiatives in Lucas County, the Northcoast Fatherhood Initiative. He now runs a faith-based nonprofit called RESTORE Inc., which sponsors an annual camp for fathers and their children. He also helps promote an annual Fatherhood Walk each Father’s Day, starting from Central Catholic High School.

● Ernest Martin, a father of 19 children who works as a site director of an after-school program called Kids Unlimited Inc. He also is community liaison at Kids Unlimited Academy. One of his colleagues, Chris Amato, wrote that Mr. Martin “has been an ever-present [father] to his children and several others he has adopted,” as well as 70 children served by Kids Unlimited.

Karyn McConnell, the Ridge Project’s northwest regional coordinator, said the national awards were a good start, but the community needs to “holistically” support other role models. The goal is to raise the profile of fathers in all areas, but especially those where kids come from broken homes and are more at risk of succumbing to criminal behavior. “Fathers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds,” Ms. McConnell said.

Jonathan Jakubowski, president of Affirm Global Development, said the mix demonstrates that some people with troubled pasts are worthy of recognition when they are “taking ownership for what they did and are moving forward.”

Mr. Jakubowski represents Hope 4 Toledo, a collaboration of Toledo-area businessmen.

“We want to get out the stories of men who have changed their lives and the lives of others,” Mr. Jakubowski said.

Contact Tom Henry at: or 419-724-6079.

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